Kremlin: U.S. Missile Shield in Romania Threat to Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters/AP) -
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos arrive for an official inauguration ceremony at Deveselu air base, Romania, May 12, 2016.  Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. ROMANIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN ROMANIA.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos arrive for an official inauguration ceremony at Deveselu air base, Romania, Thursday. (Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/via Reuters)

Activation of a U.S.-backed missile shield in Romania constitutes a threat to Russia’s national security, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday.

“Without doubt, the deployment of the PRO system really is a threat to the security of the Russian Federation,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“Measures are being taken to ensure the necessary level of security for Russia. The president himself [Vladimir Putin], let me remind you, has repeatedly asked who the system will work against?”

On Friday, Polish and U.S. officials will take shovels in hand to break ground at a planned missile defense site in the Polish village of Redzikowo, near the Baltic Sea.

The system has been under development for years and is, NATO and U.S. officials say, aimed against potential long-range threats from the Middle East, mainly with Iran in mind. Yet Russia is adamantly opposed to having the advanced military system on its doorstep and the development is certain to further exacerbate tensions between Russia and the West that are more strained than at any time since the Cold War.

While the Kremlin doesn’t view the NATO missile defense system as a threat to its nuclear forces in its current limited shape, it fears that the U.S.-led missile shield may eventually erode the deterrent potential of Russian nuclear forces when it grows more powerful in the future.

Russian officials have shrugged off the claim that the planned missile shield is intended to fend off missile threats from Iran, and President Vladimir Putin has pointed at the determination of the U.S. and NATO to pursue the project even after a nuclear deal with Iran as a proof that it’s aimed against Russia.

Western officials deny that.

“Ballistic missile proliferation is a growing threat,” said NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero. “More and more countries are trying to develop or acquire ballistic missiles. Moreover, missile technology is becoming more sophisticated, lethal and accurate, and increasing in range…. For us to discount or ignore that very real missile threat would be irresponsible,” Romero said.

Russia has threatened to react to the planned site in Poland by deploying Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, the Russian territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania that is the most militarized zone in Europe.

The Iskanders, which can be fitted with either nuclear or conventional warheads, have a range of up to about 300 miles, putting much of Poland in reach. They were temporarily deployed to Kaliningrad during military maneuvers last year to demonstrate Russia’s quick deployment capabilities. Polish defense officials are convinced some are still there.

“What the Russians are protesting against are forces that are unable to threaten them,” said Michal Baranowski, the Warsaw office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an institute devoted to trans-Atlantic affairs.

“Their protests are disingenuous,” Baranowski added. “We know — and they know — that these are defense forces that are at a level that could be easily overwhelmed.”