By Ilya Kramnik
The United States’ decision to deploy a missile defense system in Romania has been widely discussed over the past few weeks. Many wonder how much this step by the Barack Obama administration will affect Russia’s interests.
Russia’s response was predictable: it demanded an explanation from the U.S. It wanted to know what kind of ground facilities Washington planned to deploy in Romania. The U.S. intention to send Aegis-equipped ships with SM-3 missiles into the Black Sea also caught Russia’s attention.
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Munich Security Conference that Romania was a signatory to the 1936 Montreux Treaty, which imposes strict limits on the presence of outside powers in the Black Sea.
On the other hand, Russia’s reaction to placing an anti-missile shield in Romania was milder than when the U.S. planned to deploy GBI interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic. This is understandable: a system using SM-3 block I or block II missiles will pose no threat to Russian nuclear forces, just as the earlier planned base in Poland equipped with the same missiles.
In fact, this facility, planned for deployment by 2015, is designed to protect Eastern and Central Europe from Iran’s possible missile strikes. SM-3s can intercept medium-range Iranian missiles (Shahab-4 and Shahab-5 with respective ranges of 2,800 km and 4,300 km) either in midcourse or at the terminal phase.
A European system built around ground- and sea-based SM-3 missiles presents no threat to Russian nuclear forces. SM-3s to be stationed in Poland and Romania, as well as in the Baltic and Black Seas, are incapable of intercepting Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Then why is Russia concerned? First, because the U.S. adopted this decision, which affects the general European picture, without consulting Russia. Second, an overall configuration of anti-missile defenses in Europe is neither finalized nor frozen although the U.S. abandoned deployment of GBI missiles in Poland and the radar station in the Czech Republic.
At the same time, the U.S. is clearly shifting its gaze to southern Europe and Turkey. Such a scenario is acceptable to Russia, as the then chief of the Russian General Staff Yury Baluyevsky said in 2007.
The future of a U.S. anti-missile shield in Europe is uncertain, and this uncertainty threatens to complicate Russian-U.S. relations. With this uncertainty, two deployment approaches are possible.
The first is an anti-Iranian approach, with missile bases and directional radar units to be sited in southern Europe and Turkey. Their chief weapon will be SM-3s designed to intercept medium-range missiles.
The second would be anti-Russian, with the focus moving to Poland, which can accommodate the more advanced GBI missiles capable of intercepting intercontinental missiles.
The two options are far apart, and there is no guarantee that the U.S. will not change its plans for one reason or another.
So a new treaty on offensive arms reductions comes to the fore. Russia is insisting that it should include restrictions on the deployment of anti-missile defenses.
If such an agreement is achieved, it will show that the U.S. is prepared to reach a compromise with Russia to maintain a strategic balance of power. Otherwise, Russia will have to face further changes in America’s plans.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti, where this article first appeared.