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Polish president prefers distance from Russia

Polish President Lech Kaczynski expressed criticism of government policies saying the drive to improve ties with Russia could prove dangerous.

In an interview with state-run Radio 1, Kaczynski said a decision to pull out Polish troops from Iraq and a general change in foreign relations under Prime Minister Donald Tusk was one of the “key political problems” facing Poland. He also reiterated that Russia must accept that Poland has “permanently left their sphere of influence.”

Tusk's pro-EU Civic Platform party won fall elections, defeating the Law and Justice party and its nationalist government of former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's twin brother. Kaczynski's tough-talking government strained relations with the EU, along with neighboring Germany and Russia, but moved closer to Washington.

Tusk's team, which took office in November, has fundamentally changed Poland's foreign stance, particularly toward Washington and Moscow. One of its first moves was to decide to bring Poland's 900 soldiers home from Iraq by the end of October and demand more say in a US plan to include elements of a new missile defense shield on Polish soil.

As for Moscow, Tusk's government dropped a veto that had blocked the opening of talks for Russia to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In return, Russia's government lifted a two-year ban on Polish meat imports.

Tusk will travel to Moscow in February to try to improve relations. Neither of the Kaczynski twins visited Moscow or received President Vladimir Putin while in office.

The Polish president said without elaborating, however, that the “fundamental turnabout in foreign policy made by this government seems to be ... sometimes very dangerous for our country.”

“I want the best possible relations with Russia," Kaczynski said, but he repeated his view that Moscow “must remember once and for all that the geographical sphere where Poland lies ... has permanently left their sphere of influence.” He suggested Moscow was still trying to influence Poland's politics by - among other things - dictating whether Warsaw should accept the US request to host a missile defense base.

The US request to place 10 interceptor missiles in northern Poland as protection against possible attacks from unpredictable nations like Iran has drawn the ire of Moscow. Russia says the shield would threaten its own security and has warned of targeting it with its own missiles.

The controversy is to be the main theme of Tusk's talks in Moscow scheduled for February 8 and in talks he is expected to have in Washington this spring.

New Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, meanwhile, was in Washington on Tuesday to push US officials for security aid in exchange for hosting the missile defense interceptors. Klich, on his first visit to Washington as defense minister, met on Monday with senior State Department officials, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. On Tuesday, he was to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. (themoscowtimes)