General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who says he averted a Soviet invasion of Poland in 1981 by declaring martial law, said the West must show greater understanding of Russia's historic fear of encirclement by hostile powers.
"It is in the interests of the West ... to have a stable Russia. Russia's history and some of its complexes must therefore be taken into account," Jaruzelski, 84, said in an interview. As he spoke, Dmitry Medvedev was being sworn in as president.
Describing Russia's new leaders as "cold pragmatists and patriots," Jaruzelski said Moscow regarded the prospect of NATO expanding into former Soviet territory as "provocative" and said Europe should seek security arrangements that embraced, rather than excluded, Russia.
"Poland must be really careful not to be a troublemaker in this field," Jaruzelski said.
Poland, a NATO member since 1999, has irked Russia with its strong support for Ukraine to join the alliance and also with its offer to host missile interceptors on its soil as part of U.S. plans to counter possible attacks from Iran.
Jaruzelski said he did not see the relevance of the proposed missile shield for Poland's security needs.
"I think Russia and Russians see all such installations -- not only in Poland or the Czech Republic, but also in Turkey, for example -- as another attempt to surround, entrap it," he said.
U.S. negotiators were in Warsaw on Wednesday for talks on the shield. Warsaw has set tough conditions for its agreement, including billions of dollars in U.S. investment to upgrade Polish air defenses.
Jaruzelski remains a controversial figure in Poland. He is still on trial for his decision as Polish Communist Party chief to impose martial law in 1981, a move that led to the deaths of dozens of peoples and the jailing of hundreds more.
Wearing his trademark dark glasses, Jaruzelski repeated his view that martial law was "the lesser evil" that spared Poland from Soviet military intervention and the bloody fate that befell Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.