The Russian Defense Ministry is against U.S. proposals to field parts of its revised system for European missile defense in countries that border Russia, Interfax reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 16).
"Our position is negative, of course," said Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov.
U.S. President Barack Obama last fall unveiled plans for a shield that would field land- and sea-based interceptors around Europe as a preventive measure against any potential short- or medium-range missiles fired from Iran. Russia initially greeted the proposal as preferable to the Bush administration program to deploy long-range missile interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic; however, it has increasingly expressed displeasure with the new initiative as well.
In response to worries from countries in Eastern Europe, Moscow has removed weapons from the Kaliningrad region, Makarov said.
"We have removed more than 600 tanks, 500 armored vehicles and armored personnel carriers, and about 600 weapons and mortars from the Kaliningrad region, thus demilitarizing it," he said.
Makarov said the United States and its allies are not weighing this as they consider the fielding of missile defense systems in Bulgaria, Romania and the two states that had already planned to join the system.
"We do not quite understand why the decision is being made to deploy Patriot missile systems in Poland, a radar in the Czech Republic, and bases in Romania and Bulgaria in response to our moves," Makarov said (Interfax, Feb. 17).
"Taking into account the present circumstances, this (expansion of the U.S. missile shield) has caused concern in the Russian government and Russian armed forces," he said in a RIA Novosti report.
He said discussions with Washington on a replacement agreement for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty were 97 percent finished but that U.S. missile shield proposals were impacting final negotiations (see related GSN story, today).
U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow said yesterday that Washington still has a "long way to go" in assuring Moscow that its missile defense proposals are not a threat, Reuters reported..
"Skepticism in Russia is still deeply entrenched," Vershbow said.
He said the United States had not yet proposed to Bulgaria locating any missile defense apparatus on its soil and that the Kremlin was notified last year that Romania was being considered for a role in the shield.
"So we don't believe that this was as big a surprise as it has sometimes been portrayed," Vershbow said.
To reassure Russia, Washington "will continue to engage, lay down the facts, try to address the Russian arguments on a substantive basis," he added.
The Pentagon official asserted that efforts to "reset" Washington-Moscow relations were not in danger.
"There is a lot of good things going on in the bilateral relationship. ... I think the reset worked and now we're trying to build a more cooperative, substantive relationship," Vershbow said (Phil Stewart, Reuters, Feb. 17).
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said yesterday that his nation's potential involvement in a European missile shield was not aimed at Moscow, RIA Novosti reported.
"The threats that exist for us also exist for our Russian friends," he said.
While a senior-level U.S. envoy said Friday that Washington was conducting informal discussions with Sofia on the missile shield, Mladenov asserted that Bulgaria was not taking part in any concrete bilateral talks on the matter with the United States.
"At this stage, Bulgaria is holding negotiations within the NATO framework about the conceptual outline of the system," he said (RIA Novosti II, Feb. 17).