A modest system — just 10 missiles in all — and the Poles appear to get more from it than we do, but the message is clear. Flag this story, because the left will surely be pointing back to it as a provocation that simply impelled Russia to act when Putin finally gets around to making his move on Ukraine or Latvia or whoever’s next on the list.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the United States had agreed to help augment Poland’s defenses with Patriot missiles in exchange for placing 10 missile defense interceptors in the eastern European country…

While Washington says the defense system is meant to guard Europe against missile-armed states like Iran, the Kremlin feels it is aimed at Russia’s missile force, and [parliamentary foreign affairs committe chairman Konstantin] Kosachev told the Interfax news agency the deal will spark “a real rise in tensions in Russian-American relations.”…

Talking about the “mutual commitment” part of the agreement, Tusk said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be too slow in coming to Poland’s defense if Poland were threatened and that the bloc would take “days, weeks to start that machinery.”

“Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later – it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of – knock on wood – any possible conflict,” Tusk said.

That’s a brutal vote of no confidence in NATO, although I wonder if its target audience isn’t actually Bush and Rice. The U.S. hasn’t done, and likely won’t do, anything more for Georgia than provide humanitarian aid in the short term despite the military cooperation between the two countries over the past few years. This sounds like Poland’s way of saying that they expect more than that if their turn comes on the chopping block, particularly given the fact that the missile deal also includes a U.S. promise to help modernize their military. Is Bush prepared to unilaterally guarantee Poland’s security? Or rather, are the Democrats? The deal’s already gotten some static in Congress and the interceptors won’t be deployed for a few years yet, so whether Obama and Congress choose to follow through will signal the whole region about Hopenchange America’s willingness to stand up to Russia, needless to say.

Austin Bay has the nuts and bolts of the possible defense systems involved, none of which appear to pose any great obstacle to Russia beyond their having to fire off a few extra missiles to swamp the shield. Doubtless it’ll be used as a pretext, though, for Russia to build up its own “defenses,” which it certainly wouldn’t have done if not for this exceedingly menacing empty gesture.

Update: Ah, I missed this from the AP piece. Indeed, this deal is not about the missiles:

He said the deal also includes a “mutual commitment” between the two nations to come to each other’s assistance “in case of trouble.”