MOSCOW • Russia's Foreign Ministry has slammed as "extraordinarily dangerous" Poland's call to annul a Nato agreement that prevents the alliance from having permanent military bases on Polish soil.
"We consider these statements to be extraordinarily dangerous and exceptionally provocative," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.
Poland's new right-wing Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski on Wednesday called for the scrapping of the 1997 Act on Nato-Russia ties to let the alliance install the bases, saying the document causes "inequality" between new and old members of the alliance.
Ms Zakharova said that Dr Waszczykowski's statement was part of an attempt to rally Western public opinion ahead of next year's Nato summit in Warsaw, and that the annulment of the deal could "bring down the existing European security system".
"We see here the desire to convey the irreversible course taken by the alliance on the military containment of our country," she said in a briefing.
TWO SECURITY LEVELS UNACCEPTABLE
Nato cannot have two levels of security, namely one for Western Europe with US troops, with military bases and defence installations and another for Poland, without these elements.
POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER WITOLD WASZCZYKOWSKI, on the Nato restrictions
The Polish Foreign Ministry insisted on Thursday evening that Moscow had "clearly misunderstood" Dr Waszczykowski.
"Of course he was not referring to the Nato-Russia Founding Act adopted in 1997, but to political declarations by Nato concerning the deployment of large military units in Central Europe."
The 1997 document stipulates that older Nato members "have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members" like Poland, Hungary or the Baltic countries.
It adds that Nato "will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces."
Russia has long insisted this provision clearly rules out permanent bases and troop deployments.
In an interview with the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily, Dr Waszczykowski was asked if he wanted the 1997 agreement annulled.
He said: "Yes. This agreement was political in character, it was not legally binding, and was concluded in a different international context."
He added that "we demand an equal level of security" between older and new Nato members.
"Nato cannot have two levels of security, namely one for Western Europe with US troops, with military bases and defence installations and another for Poland, without these elements," he said.
"Poland is Russia's neighbour, and this is why we are speaking up."
In 1999, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary became the first former communist states to join Nato as the Western alliance expanded into Warsaw Pact territory controlled by Moscow during the Soviet era. Subsequent waves of expansion saw 12 formerly communist states join Nato. Russia has long opposed the expansion in the area it still considers its backyard.
Dr Waszczykowski is a key member of Poland's new eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) government, well-known for its hardline stance on Russia.
However, he underscored Poland's strong economic ties with top European Union trading partner Germany, and vowed "Warsaw won't do anything that could damage this relationship".
But he said there were "certain issues on which we differ", namely security issues.
"The Germans think this (scrapping the 1997 deal) will cause tension with Russia. We ask: whose comfort are you more concerned about? A state that is your Nato and EU ally or a non-member that is engaged in its third war: with Georgia, Ukraine and now, Syria," Dr Waszczykowski said.