WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland signed the biggest arms-buying deal in its history on Wednesday, agreeing with the US to buy Raytheon Co's Patriot missile defense system for $ 4.75 billion, in exchange for a bolder one To modernize Russia.
"It is an extraordinary historical moment, it is the introduction of Poland into a whole new world of state-of-the-art technology, modern weapons and defense," said President Andrzej Duda during the signing ceremony.
NATO member Poland has accelerated efforts to overhaul its aging weapons following the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Crimea in 2014. Two-thirds of Polish weapons come from the Cold War era when they were under Soviet leadership in the Warsaw Pact.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov told Sputnik's news website in November that Patriot missions are part of a US plot to surround Russia with missile defense systems "under the pretext of mythical security threats."
The Patriot deal follows the expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats by the United States and a number of other Western countries, including Poland, in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK.
This month, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed a series of new nuclear weapons, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and escape a US-made missile shield.
The Patriot deal was a relief to Poland in tension with Washington over a law that Warsaw had introduced in January to impose prison sentences for Poland's participation in the Holocaust.
The United States says the bill undermines freedom of expression and Israeli officials say it's equivalent to Holocaust denial, an accusation that rejects the Polish nationalist government.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the Patriot Agreement shows "solidarity and cooperation" with the US and other NATO countries.
"STRONGER THAN OTHERS"
On Wednesday, 20 Patriot batteries will be delivered by Raytheon, each with two fire units.
Warsaw is negotiating with Washington to buy more patriots, a new 360-degree radar and a low-cost Interceptor rocket as part of a second modernization phase.
"We expect Poland to get on with Phase II fairly quickly and have a stated desire to complete it by the end of the year," said Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, to Reuters over the phone.
Air defense is particularly important for Poland and the neighboring Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
NATO planners say Russia is using its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad and the Crimea to block NATO air supplies to the Baltic states, about one third of Poland and the Black Sea.
The decision of Warsaw could pressure Washington to comply with the demands of the Baltic Sea for stronger air defense. While the Baltic States are looking for their own missile defense, the high costs of their small economies make it difficult to make quick purchases.
Raytheons Kremer said the current threat environment has increased the demand for missile defense systems, and the Donald Trump government is working to accelerate sales to allies.
"In general, they are more open to accelerate and achieve these businesses," said Kremer.
Fourteen other countries, including six NATO members, have the Patriot missile. Romania agreed to buy patriots in November, and the US government also approved the sale to Sweden. Switzerland announced last week that it will also be dealing with the Patriot in a contest that is expected to start later this year.
Raytheon hopes that the Polish purchase could provide a new impetus for the delivery of a more modern Patriot system to Germany, which has not yet signed a contract for the competing MEADS system by Lockheed Martin and the European rocket manufacturer MBDA three years later has selected MEADS over Patriot.
Kremer said the change of course and expansion of existing Patriot systems would make it easier for Germany to work with other Patriot users in NATO, although MEADS supporters say the system should be able to integrate other components ,
Poland's deal, approved by the State Department in November, saw a sale worth up to $ 10.5 billion. But Warsaw has lowered the price by opting for a less ambitious command system and procuring some items locally.
"We are in the front rank of countries that can not only work together and work together with the US and NATO, but also be perceived as stronger on the (east) east flank," he said Chief of staff of the Polish military, General Leszek Surawski, after the signing ceremony.
Additional coverage by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Letter from Lidia Kelly; Editing by Mark Heinrich