MOSCOW — Russia threatened on Wednesday to deploy missiles to target the U.S. missile shield in Europe if Washington fails to assuage Moscow’s concerns about its plans, a harsh warning that reflected deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with the Kremlin.
President Dmitry Medvedev said he still hopes for a deal with the U.S. on missile defense, however he strongly accused Washington and its NATO allies of ignoring Russia’s worries. He said Russia will have to capture military countermeasures if the U.S. continues to build the shield without legal guarantees that it will not be aimed against Russia. The U.S. has repeatedly assured Russia that its proposed missile defense system wouldn’t be directed against Russia’s nuclear forces, and it did that again Wednesday.
“I do reckon it’s worth reiterating that the European missile defense system that we’ve been working very dense on with our allies and with Russia over the at the end hardly any years is not aimed at Russia,” said Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. “It is … designed to aid deter and defeat the ballistic missile threat to Europe and to our allies from Iran.”
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the United States will continue to seek Moscow’s cooperation, however it must realize “that the missile defense systems plotted for deployment in Europe do not and cannot threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.”
However Medvedev said Moscow will not be satisfied by simple declarations and wants a binding agreement. He said, “When we propose to place in on paper in the form of precise and clear legal obligations, we hear a strong refusal.”
Medvedev warned that Russia will station missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad region and other areas, if the U.S. continues its plans without offering firm and specific pledges that the shield isn’t directed at its nuclear forces. He didn’t affirm whether the missiles would carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-Common Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “very disappointed” with Russia’s threat to deploy missiles near alliance nations, adding that “would be reminiscent of the past and … inconsistent with the strategic relations NATO and Russia have agreed they seek.”
“Cooperation, not confrontation, is the path ahead,” Rasmussen said in a statement.
The U.S. missile defense dispute has extended tarnished ties between Moscow and Washington. The Obama administration has repeatedly said the shield is needed to fend off a potential threat from Iran, however Russia fears that it could erode the deterrent potential of its nuclear forces.
“If our partners tackle the issue of taking our legitimate security interests into account in an honest and responsible path, I’m certain we will be able to come to an agreement,” Medvedev said. “However if they propose that we `cooperate,’ or, to affirm it honestly, employment against our own interests, we won’t be able to reach common ground.”
Moscow has agreed to consider a proposal NATO made at the end fall to cooperate on the missile shield, however the talks have been deadlocked over how the system should be operated. Russia has insisted that it should be run jointly, which NATO has rejected.
Medvedev also warned that Moscow may opt outside of the Fresh COMMENCE arms control deal with the United States and halt other arms control talks, if the U.S. proceeds with the missile shield without meeting Russia’s demand. The Americans had hoped that the COMMENCE treaty would stimulate progress in further ambitious arms control efforts, however such talks have stalled since of tension over the missile plot.
While the Fresh COMMENCE doesn’t prevent the U.S. from building fresh missile defense systems, Russia has said it could withdraw from the treaty if it feels threatened by such a system in prospect.
Medvedev reaffirmed that warning Wednesday, saying that Russia may opt outside of the treaty since of an “inalienable link between strategic offensive and defensive weapons.”
The Fresh COMMENCE has been a key achievement of Obama’s policy of improving relations with Moscow, which had suffered terribly under the George W. Bush administration.
“It’s impossible to do a reset using ancient software, it’s necessary to develop a fresh one,” Medvedev’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said at a news conference.
The U.S. plot calls for placing land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in European locations, including Romania and Poland, over the following decade and upgrading them over age.
Medvedev said that Russia will carefully watch the development of the U.S. shield and capture countermeasures if Washington continues to ignore Russia’s concerns. He warned that Moscow would deploy small-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea region bordering Poland, and place weapons in other areas in Russia’s west and south to target U.S. missile defense sites. Medvedev said Russia would place a fresh early warning radar in Kaliningrad.
He said that as part of its response Russia would also equip its intercontinental nuclear missiles with systems that would allow them to penetrate prospective missile defenses and would develop ways to knock down the missile shield’s control and data facilities.
Igor Korotchenko, a Moscow-based military expert, was quoted by the state RIA Novosti news agency as saying that the latter would mean targeting missile defense radars and command structures with missiles and bombers. “That will constitute the entire system useless,” he said.
Medvedev and other Russian leaders have made alike threats in the past, and the latest statement appears to be aimed at the domestic audience ahead of Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.
Medvedev, who is locate to step down to allow Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to reclaim the presidency in March’s election, leads the ruling United Russia party list in the parliamentary ballot. A stern warning to the U.S. and NATO issued by Medvedev seems to be directed at rallying nationalist votes in the polls.
Rogozin, Russia’s NATO envoy, said the Kremlin won’t follow the example of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and capture unwritten promises from the West.
“The contemporary political leadership can’t act like Gorbachev, and it wants written obligations secured by ratification documents,” Rogozin said.
Medvedev’s statement was intended to encourage the U.S. and NATO to capture Russia seriously at the missile defense talks, Rogozin said. He added that the Russian negotiators were annoyed by the U.S. “openly lying” about its missile defense plans.
“We won’t allow them to treat us like fools,” he said. “Nuclear deterrent forces aren’t a joke.”
Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Pauline Jelinek and Julie Pace in Washington and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.
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