16th Sep 2019

Russia in stand-by mode over US missile plans in Romania

Moscow is "concerned" and expects "proper explanations" on US plans to deploy anti-ballistic missile defence systems in Romania, but it is still interested in contributing to a "common assessment" of threats with Europe and the US, Russia's envoy to Brussels told this website.

"We took note of President Basescu's statement on his agreement to host those elements. This is a serious issue which we'll be analysing when we receive all the details regarding what exact equipment is meant to be deployed there," Mr Chizhov said in a phone interview on Monday (8 February).

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  • Anti-ballistic missiles are not aimed against Russia, says the US (Photo: US Missile Defense Agency)

Last Thursday, Romanian President Traian Basescu announced that his country had accepted an invitation by the Obama administration to host land-based anti-ballistic missiles as part of US plans to defend Europe against Iranian and other regional threats.

The rockets are set to be deployed by 2015, in a second phase of the new version of the US shield, which combines sea and land-based interceptors for short, medium and long-range missiles.

The Romanian approval process is at an early stage, as the actual agreement still needs to be negotiated between the two capitals and approved by their respective legislatures.

However, the Russian reaction contrasts with its response to similar announcements made in 2007 by the Bush administration on deploying a radar in the Czech Republic and missiles in Poland by 2011. Back then, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned of a new Cold War and threatened to place nuclear missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad bordering EU members Poland and Lithuania if the plans were to go ahead.

Asked why the Russian reaction was milder this time around, Mr Chizhov said that this was a "preliminary reaction," pending further clarifications from the American side.

"It is a source of concern for us," he said, adding that Moscow was also interested to know "the reason behind the choice of Romania."

"One could argue that Romania is somewhat closer to Iran than Poland, but still, according to our information Iran will neither now nor in the foreseeable future posses any missiles capable of reaching Romania. Not to mention Poland, central Europe or the United States," the Russian envoy argued.

This view is not shared by Pentagon officials, however, who in a recent review of US' current and planned missile defence architecture note that Iran "has developed and acquired ballistic missiles capable of striking deployed forces, allies, and partners in the Middle East and eastern Europe" at an increasingly rapid pace.

The new system envisaged by Washington would see maritime interceptors deployed in the Mediterranean by 2011 and backed up by a powerful radar whose location has not yet been disclosed.

The Romanian interceptors are part of the second phase outlined in the review, which is planned to be put in place around 2015 and to expand the covered area from southern Europe to "additional Nato allies," the document reads.

A third phase would be operational by 2018 and would have interceptors located in "northern Europe." State Department spokesman Philip Crowley last week confirmed that the US was in talks with Poland for the third stage.

Warsaw is still on the table after being rebuffed by Mr Obama last year when he decided to scrap the earlier plans tabled by his predecessor. Prague is no longer considered as a potential location, however.

Russia on board?

Mr Chizhov did not rule out a future Russian contribution to the anti-missile defence system.

"We proposed to start from the beginning, with a joint assessment of risks and challenges in this field. We're ready to discuss that with the Americans and everybody else," he said.

Moscow's tempered reaction also comes against the backdrop of Mr Obama's efforts to "hit the reset button" in US-Russian relations, after they had reached a Cold War era low point during the Bush administration.

The revised missile shield should be "of no surprise to the Russian side," Nato sources told this website. It was also discussed among European allies, but no decisions on how to integrate that into a Nato architecture had been taken yet, as the upcoming summit in Lisbon this autumn would be a more appropriate occasion for it.

As for the EU side, it considered the Romania missile plan a "bilateral discussion" between a member state and the US, a spokesman for the bloc's foreign policy chief told this website.

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