Bush missile meeting adds to tension between US and Russia


Tony Halpin in Moscow and Tim Reid in Washington

President Bush risks further angering Russia today when he meets the Polish President to plot details of the proposed US missile defence shield in central Europe.

The meeting comes a day after Russia withdrew from a key Nato arms-control treaty in protest at the plans. The White House made clear that Mr Bush would not be deterred by President Putin's withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. He would go ahead with his meeting with Lech Kaczynski, and the plans to place ten missile interceptors in Poland, said officials.

Russia has voiced outrage over the missile shield plan, and this month threatened to deploy rockets in the European Union's backyard in retaliation for the American proposals, which also include a radar station in the Czech Republic.

The Kremlin said that the decision to withdraw from the treaty was due to "extraordinary circumstances . . . which effect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures".

Mr Putin's decision boosts his standing at home and raises the stakes in the Kremlin's dispute with Nato over the American plans. He gave 150 days' notice of withdrawal from the treaty, effectively giving Nato until December to resolve the missile defence stand-off before his authority begins to drain away as the election campaign to succeed him in March gets under way.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who signed the treaty, said that Mr Putin's move was an urgent call. . . to constructive dialogue" with Nato.

One man who will be encouraged by the Russian move is Sergei Ivanov, the hawkish First Deputy Prime Minister, who is a contender for Mr Putin's job. As the candidate of the siloviki, the military and security service faction in the Kremlin, his prospects will be strengthened by patriotic appeals to defend Russia against "Nato aggression"¯.