Redzikowa: As the conflict in Ukraine rages, residents of a region in northern Poland that will house a US missile facility worry they could become Russian targets in case of a wider conflict.
“If a serious armed conflict breaks out, the first strike will target our shield,” said Ryszard Kwiatkowski, the former deputy mayor of the town of Slupsk, home to around 90,000 people.
Washington has said the facility in the nearby village of Redzikowo, which will become operational this year, is intended to defend the West from ballistic missiles fired by countries like Iran.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken out against the facility, saying it is not purely defensive and is instead aimed at Russia.
Bases like Redzikowo are at the heart of Russian demands for the NATO military alliance to pull back deployments from ex-communist eastern Europe.
A similar US facility - officially called Aegis Ashore - is already up and running in Romania.
Kwiatkowski has been a critic of the facility since work began in 2016.
He is also sceptical about its defensive purpose.
“There are no offensive or defensive systems. All military systems are aggressive,” he told AFP.
He said it was “absurd” to say that the facility was intended as a defence against countries like Iran and warned that missiles based in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad could easily strike Redzikowo.
“From the start it was intended (as a defence) against Russia. Now they are not hiding it any more,” he said.
The former local official also complained that the installation was based in a former airport where there could have been an industrial zone and said it has put off potential investors from the area.
Top target for Putin
While some inhabitants shared Kwiatkowski’s concern, he admitted that local demonstrations against the presence of the facility have never brought together more than a few dozen people.
But that may be about to change.
“Until recently, I was not worried about the facility but the assault on Ukraine shows that we cannot be certain about anything,” said Tomasz Czescik, a local archaeologist and journalist.
“Putin has said more than once that this base in Poland, which is just 230 kilometres from the Russian border, should never have been created... that missiles that can be brought here would also be offensive,” he said.
“When I speak now with my friends in Slupsk, they tell me that we are now the top target for Putin after Ukraine,” he said.
But Ewa Trap, a pensioner who said she does not take an interest in politics, said she was relaxed about having a US missile facility on her doorstep.
“I feel more secure knowing it is there than if it was not there,” she said.
“I am a simple, modest person. I don’t think about far-away problems. That’s how I live well.”