The United States switched on an $800 million missile shield in Romania on Thursday, a step it sees as vital to defend itself and Europe but which the Kremlin said is aimed at blunting its own nuclear arsenal.
To the music of military bands at the remote Deveselu air base, senior US and NATO officials declared operational the ballistic missile defense site, which Washington said is capable of shooting down rockets from countries such as Iran that could one day reach major European cities.
“As long as Iran continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles, the United States will work with its allies to defend NATO,” said US Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work, standing in front of the shield’s massive gray concrete housing.
Before the ceremony, Frank Rose, deputy US assistant secretary of state for arms control, warned that Iran’s ballistic missiles can hit parts of Europe, including Romania. Russia is incensed at such of show of force by its Cold War rival in Eastern Europe.
Moscow said the US-led alliance is trying to encircle it close to the strategically important Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet and where NATO is also considering increasing patrols. Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s defense committee, called the missile defense site a threat to Russia.
“This is a direct threat to us,” Komoyedov, former commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, told the Interfax news agency. “They are moving to the firing line. This is not just 100; it’s 200, 300, 1,000 percent aimed against us.” “This is not about Iran, but about Russia with its nuclear capabilities,” he said ‘No threat’ to Russia The readying of the shield also comes as NATO prepares a new deterrent in Poland and the Baltics.
In response, Russia is reinforcing its western and southern flanks with three new divisions. Poland is concerned Russia may retaliate further by announcing the deployment of nuclear weapons to its enclave of Kaliningrad, located between Poland and Lithuania. Russia has stationed anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles there, able to cover huge areas and complicate NATO’s ability to move around.
The Kremlin said the shield’s aim is to neutralize Moscow’s nuclear arsenal long enough for the US to strike Russia in the event of war.
Washington and NATO denied that. “Missile defense ... does not undermine or weaken Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent,” NATO SecretaryGeneral Jens Stoltenberg said. However, Douglas Lute, the US envoy to NATO, said NATO would press ahead with NATO’s biggest modernization since the Cold War. “We are deployingatsea,ontheground and in the air across the eastern flanks of the alliance ... to deter any aggressor,” Lute said. The US said Russia has ballistic missiles, in breach of a treaty that agreed the two powers must not develop and deploy missiles with a range of 500 kilometers to 5,500 km.