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Moscow irked by U.S. missile shield plans for Romania

RIA Novosti


BERLIN, February 5 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow is apprehensive about U.S. plans to deploy missile defense elements in Romania, a senior Russian MP said Friday.

Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Thursday his country backed talks with the United States on a plan to deploy interceptor missiles as part of a missile shield to protect Europe.

Viktor Zavarzin, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, said the plans could affect the European security architecture as well as ongoing talks on the Russian-U.S. strategic arms reduction deal.

In an interview with the Rosbalt news agency, he said the "key question" in that situation was whether NATO would view security problems only "from the Brussels perspective" or would take into account the "legitimate interests and concerns of all states in the Euro-Atlantic area."

Alexander Pikayev, head of the Disarmament and Conflict Resolution Department at the World Economics and International Relations Institute, believes Romania had purposely made the statement at a time when U.S.-Russian strategic arms control talks had moved into the home stretch.

He added that Romania's "initiative" could "significantly cool" ties between Russia and the United States.

This view is echoed by other analysts who have suggested Bucharest's decision galls Moscow because it accentuates Romania's independence from Russia and underscores the fact that the Kremlin cannot dictate to NATO or the United States.

The Russian foreign minister said earlier on Friday Moscow was waiting for clarification from the United States over its plans to deploy missile defense elements in Romania.

"We expect the United States to provide an exhaustive explanation, taking into account the fact that the Black Sea regime is regulated by the Montreux Convention," Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov did not clarify how the Montreux Convention could have any implications on the U.S. missile defense plans in Romania, as the convention regulates military and commercial navigation through the Dardanelles Straits. On September 18, 2009, Russian Prime Minister Putin welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's plans for missile defense in the Black Sea which may include stationing U.S. Aegis armed warships in the Black Sea.

He said Russia acted on the assumption that "there is an agreement between the two presidents on the joint study of common threats, with the participation of the European Union."

"When we understand that we have a common understanding of possible threats, it will be possible to say which measures could be taken in response," the minister said.

A U.S. State Department official said the facilities were due to become operational by 2015 and were aimed at defending against "current and emerging ballistic missile threats from Iran."

However, a Russian military analyst said the U.S. plans posed a real threat to Russia's national security.

Col. Igor Korotchenko (Ret.), editor-in-chief of the Natsionalnaya Oborona (National Defense) magazine, said they involved the placement of the land-based Aegis system using the new Standard Missile interceptor, SM-3.

"This weapon system, without a question, could significantly impair Russia's nuclear deterrence capability," he said.

He said SM-3 missiles would be able to intercept Russian ballistic missiles shortly after launch.

"Russia should warn Romania that if elements of a U.S. missile shield are sited in the country they will be viewed as legitimate targets for Russian missile attack," Korotchenko said.

Obama scrapped plans last year for Poland and the Czech Republic to host missile shield elements to counter possible strikes from Iran. The plans had infuriated Russia.

Washington then announced a new scheme for a more flexible system, with a combination of land- and sea-based interceptors, to be deployed in Central Europe by 2015.

U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden visited Romania, Poland, and the Czech Republic last October to promote the new missile shield plan.

Warsaw and Prague have already expressed their support for the revamped U.S. strategy.

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