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Russia Hints at Use of Short-Range Missiles on NATO Missile Shield

Acting Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov last week renewed warnings that short-range missiles could be used to neutralize deployed U.S. antimissile systems in Europe, Interfax reported (see GSN, May 10).

Moscow has threatened to deploy Iskander missiles to the Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave that borders NATO states Poland and Lithuania, if the Western military bloc fails to come to an arrangement with Russia on its plans to deploy ballistic missile defenses on the continent.

In accordance with the broader NATO effort, the United States through 2020 intends to field increasingly advanced interceptors at bases in Poland and Romania and on warships based in Spain as a stated hedge against the evolving ballistic missile threat from Iran. Moscow suspects the interceptors will secretly be aimed at undermining its ICBMs.

The Defense Ministry earlier this month hosted delegates from some 50 countries at a forum on missile defense that focused on raising Russian concerns about the implications to strategic stability of NATO missile defense plans.

"At the conference we once again drew attention to what arouses certain anxieties in us," Serdyukov said. "We will destroy missile defense accordingly."

Current-generation Russian weaponry is adequate to defeating U.S. antimissile systems planned for fielding in Europe, the defense minister told journalists. "The self-safe Iskander can deal with neutralizing the means that may stand in the way of our missiles."

The Kremlin is awaiting a detailed response from Washington on the missile defense concern, Serdyukov said. "We will wait to see what they offer. For us, (the readiness of the U.S. to consider the option of legal or political guarantees) came as news. If they give legally binding guarantees, we are ready to look at that with a different eye. Previously, they only made verbal promises."

Moscow wants a legally binding pledge that U.S. interceptors in Europe will never be aimed at Russian strategic nuclear forces; the Obama administration had previously indicated this would not be feasible due to previous commitments made to Congress to accept no limitations on U.S. missile defenses in Europe.

"It was said at the conference that (the U.S.) is ready to draft some proposals" on this," Serdyukov said (Interfax I, May 11).

The head of NATO said he is optimistic about meeting in the near future with Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, Interfax reported.

The meeting might follow the May 20-21 alliance summit in Chicago, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said to reporters in Brussels.,

While the two sides have not managed to bridge their disparate views on missile defense, they are maintaining diplomatic engagement on the issue, Rasmussen said (Interfax II, May 11).

In a Sunday commentary in the Wall Street Journal, Rasmussen touted a recent alliance drill that he said demonstrated the feasibility of NATO's antimissile framework.

"A U.S. ship, radar and satellite, as well as interceptor batteries from Germany and the Netherlands, conducted a series of simulated engagements to test the alliance's ability to defend against missile attacks. The test was successful," Rasmussen wrote. "None of the countries involved could have dealt with the simulated attacks alone. But together, working under NATO command and control, allies could -- and did."

The NATO chief noted that in excess of 30 nations possess or are pursuing ballistic missiles. "Some already have missiles that can be fitted with conventional warheads or weapons of mass destruction, and some of these missiles can reach Europe. That's why the U.S. and European allies are working together within NATO to develop appropriate responses."

Though alliance members possess tested methods such as "diplomacy, disarmament and deterrence ... they must also be ready to respond when a potential aggressor, armed with ballistic missiles, resists diplomacy, rejects disarmament, and refuses to be deterred," Rasmussen stated.

"The U.S. and a number of European allies have announced their intention to contribute interceptors, sensors and control systems, as well as to host key parts of the overall system. At our summit in Chicago on May 20-21, we will declare an interim capability that brings these individual contributions together under NATO command and control," he continued.

Rasmussen said the interim antimissile capability would supply NATO "immediately" with the capacity to counter launched ballistic missiles. "It is the first step, but a real step toward providing full coverage for all NATO populations, territory and forces in Europe."

He insisted that while U.S. efforts played a leading role in alliance antimissile plans, the effort represented "true trans-Atlantic teamwork."

The core interim capability to be announced is comprised of deployed U.S. systems -- an Aegis-equipped warship in the Mediterranean and a long-range radar base stationed in Turkey. 

"From the very beginning, the whole point of NATO missile defense has been to go beyond the U.S. contribution," Rasmussen wrote. "European allies are fully involved -- supporting it politically, sharing the costs, and providing substantial assets of their own. Many different assets from European allies are being drawn together with the U.S. assets into a common, integrated and shared NATO capability."

"The Netherlands has already announced plans to upgrade four air-defense frigates with missile-defense radar. France plans to develop an early warning capability and long-range radar. Germany has offered Patriot missile batteries and is hosting the NATO command-and-control at Headquarters Alliance Air Command in Ramstein. Turkey, Romania, Poland and Spain have all agreed to host U.S. assets. I expect more announcements in the months and years ahead," he said (Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal, May 13).

A senior U.S. State Department official on Thursday reaffirmed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the alliance would proceed with building its missile shield even without an accord with Russia, RIA Novosti reported.

"While we strive for cooperation, we have also been frank in our discussions with Russia that we will continue to develop and deploy our missile defenses, irrespective of the status of missile defense cooperation with Russia," Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon said.

He also reaffirmed the Obama administration's stance that "NATO is not a threat to Russia nor is Russia a threat to NATO" (RIA Novosti I, May 11).

A senior Russian envoy will participate in the Chicago summit, RIA Novosti reported.

The representative is anticipated to be the Foreign Ministry's head of Afghanistan affairs, Zamir Kabulov, unidentified diplomatic insiders told the Kommersant newspaper (RIA Novosti II, May 14).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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