Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski with Zbigniew BrzezinskiOpinia.USOpinia.US SAN FRANCISCO — A member of the Russian parliament has criticized Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski for his comments during a visit this week to Washington, but the Polish foreign ministry has disputed the accuracy of Russian news reports quoting Sikorski’s statement. The point of dispute is whether Sikorski has publicly asked for U.S. troops to be stationed in Poland, and what he actually said, but there is little doubt that Poland wants more American soldiers on its soil as a protection against Russia. Sikorski met in Washington with Obama administration officials, but his scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was postponed when she decided to extend her diplomatic trip to the Middle East. According to the Polish foreign ministry, the Russian news agency Interfax dispatch of November 5 2009 attributed “to the Minister comments which, in fact, he never made: ‘We would desire to secure American troops, deployed in our country as a shield against Russian aggression.'” The Polish foreign ministry said that this appears to be an intentional manipulation. “The passage at issue is in the form of a quotation, so there can be no question of it being distorted through an inaccurate interpretation or a lack of journalistic diligence. It would have been easy to check if the quoted statement had ever been made by examining a recording of the conference,” the Polish foreign ministry said.During a panel discussion in Washington on Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Radoslaw Sikorski spoke about recent Russian large scale military exercises near Poland’s borders, which alarmed Polish officials. This is what he said in response to a question about security assurances from the Obama administration in light of the potential threat to Poland from Russia.Listen to Foreign Minister Sikorski’s remarks

You can convince people by words. And we’ve just had a very good trip by the Vice President [Joe Biden]. And the words are convincing. But the point is — well, I’m a former defense minister — and what really convinces are the capabilities. And as I mentioned in my introduction, we’ve just had the largest Russian military exercise on the NATO border, on our border, in 20 years, using 900 tanks.NATO planners used to say that God created Poland for tank warfare. And so these tanks that were exercising were 250 kilometers of flat ground from our capital city. We don’t know what kind of message the Russian Federation was trying to send to us, but you can imagine what we heard. And, as Zbig Brzezinski said — and he wasn’t the only one — what really reassured Germany, for example, during the Cold War was not Article 5 [NATO Treaty], which is in fact, you know, quite vague, but the presence of 300,000 American troops in Germany. Now, we have, I think, at the latest count, six American troops — one, two, three, four, five, six — outside the [U.S.] embassy. [Laughter] If you had, on the one hand, 900 tanks, and on the other, six troops, would you be convinced?

While the Polish foreign ministry statement focused on an apparently inaccurate quote in the Interfax news report, there is little doubt that Polish government officials would like to see more U.S. troops in Poland as an extra protection against Russia, and that this has been a subject of behind-the-scene negotiations with Washington.Revealing their ambition to influence and control military and foreign policy of former Warsaw Pact nations, Russian officials object to such talks between Poland the the U.S. Responding to the Interfax news report, a member of the Russian parliament said that Sikorski’s statements are “absolutely unacceptable.” Konstantin Kosachev threatened that Sikorski’s comments may lead to cooling of Russian-Polish relations.Konstantin Kosachev, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian State Duma, was quoted by the Russia Today international television channel as saying that “Sikorski de facto calls on the US to review agreement between NATO and Russia, which provided that no large military contingent will be deployed on the territories of new NATO members.”According to foreign minister Sikorski, there are now only six U.S. soldiers based in Poland. There is no doubt that the Polish side would like to see this number increase in light of the Russian attack on Georgia last year and the most recent Russian military maneuvers near Poland’s borders. Polish and British media reported that Polish news magazine Wprost disclosed it has seen documents which show that troop exercises near Poland’s border in September portrayed Poland as “a potential aggressor.”According to the Polish news magazine, 30,000 Russian troops practiced not only defensive manoeuvres but also rehearsed landings on the beaches of Kaliningrad – a Russian controlled corridor linking it with the Baltic Sea – which was used to simulate Poland’s northern coast. Russian aircraft also practiced the use of nuclear weapons in the attacks, the magazine reported, but these reports could not be independently verified.Mainstream media in the U.S., including The Washington Post and The New York Times, have not reported on the Russian military maneuvers. The Obama administration had no reaction — something that would be almost automatic during previous administrations. There was also no report by the Voice of America English service, which also ignored Sikorski’s visit to Washington. VOA has not been broadcasting radio programs to Poland for a number of years. In fact, most of the international coverage of Sikorski’s visit to Washington came from the Russian government-funded Russia Today television channel.During his stay in Washington, Sikorski was interviewed by Associated Press but few U.S. newspapers and other media outlets used the AP news story based on the interview. He was also interviewed by Foreign Policy magazine.This is how foreign minister Sikorski explained his current thinking about the Obama administration missile defense plans for Central Europe and about Poland’s view of Russia.

Radoslaw Sikorski: The administration has now explained its position more thoroughly, and we are now satisfied and want to go where the U.S. is leading, toward a more adaptive and more proven system. [The new system] will take longer to construct, but will create fewer tensions in our region. I think we’re now on the same page with the U.S., and we are ready to address the details and the amendments to the agreements I signed with the previous administration.

Sikorski also responded to a question whether the Obama administration’s “reset” with Russia is worthwhile?

Radoslaw Sikorski: I would only advise that the more you talk to Russia, the more you should talk to Russia’s neighbors, who sometimes feel vulnerable, particularly after what Russia did in Georgia a year ago. We would like relations between Russia and the U.S. to be better than they are. We don’t want to be a front-line state. Russia is our second largest trading partner. If there were a return to confrontation, we would be much more adversely affected than the United States. The trick is to persuade Russia that she can be a significant partner without using 19th- or 20th-century instruments that have been tried with such tragic consequences.

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