Russia is accusing the United States and NATO of reneging on a promise that antimissile assets deployed in Europe are aimed only at Iran.
At issue is the U.S. Defense Department's decision to redeploy the Aegis-equipped USS Donald Cook to the Black Sea in order to bolster the confidence of NATO allies and "Black Sea partners'" in the U.S. commitment to their security. The missile destroyer is slated to arrive on Friday, department spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said in a Pentagon press story.
The USS Donald Cook was sent to to Rota, Spain earlier this year in accordance with a U.S. plan to through the end of the decade deploy sea- and land-based missile interceptors to Europe as a hedge against potential ballistic missile strikes from Iran. Leaders in Moscow have long rejected U.S. verbal assurances that the interceptors are not meant to counter Russia's strategic deterrent.
Some European countries have "already forgotten their previous syrupy assurances" about the NATO ballistic missile shield and are now characterizing the framework as a "military counterweight to Russia's growing 'expansionist' policy," Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov was quoted by Voice of Russia as saying on Wednesday.
"It all confirms our previous estimates that the missile shield in Europe ... is aimed at undermining Russia's nuclear deterrent," Antonov said.
"It is noteworthy that [in] dispatching a warship in the Black Sea, the U.S. stated [a] direct link between this military event of the country's Navy with [the] current crisis in Ukraine for the first time," an unidentified Russian defense ministry source told ITAR-Tass on Thursday.
Russia's forced annexation last month of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula has greatly unnerved Eastern European members of NATO. The U.S. military has sent additional jets to Poland and has boosted the number of aircraft participating in rotational air patrols over the Baltics. Ukraine is not a member of NATO but it is receiving some non-lethal U.S. military assistance.
"The Donald Cook's mission is to reassure NATO allies and Black Sea partners of America's commitment to strengthen and improve interoperability," Warren said in the Pentagon press report. "It demonstrates our commitment to our ... allies to enhance security, readiness and capabilities."