Moscow is threatening to stop cooperation with NATO on anti-defense in Europe. Thursday's statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry, experts say, is a sort of last warning to Washington, which continues to ignore Russia's opinion.
Playing the Spanish game
Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday issued a very sharply worded statement addressed to NATO leadership.
" ... decisions that can affect security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic zone are made without collective discussion and without taking into account the opinion of all the countries concerned. If events continue to develop in this fashion, the opportunity ... to turn the missile defense system from an area of confrontation into a point of cooperation will be lost," the Ministry commented.
As the Ministry officially said, this statement follows Spain's decision to join the U.S. anti-missile defense system being created in Europe. Four U.S. Aegis ships carrying Standard SM-3 missiles will be deployed off the Spanish naval base at Rota.
This was announced on Wednesday by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Pentagon chief Leon Panetta. Rasmussen added that the European missile defense shield would be fully operational by 2018. The Russian position, which takes a negative view of any of NATO's unilateral steps on missile defense in Europe, has been ignored once again.
Persistent American pressure on the European missile defense issue, while ignoring Moscow's opinion, has a political explanation. "It is unacceptable for the United States that any one else (especially Russia, which is still suspected as a former and possibly a future rival) should dictate U.S. criteria for deploying future anti-missile defense systems," Viktor Mizin, deputy director, Institute of International Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said in a RIA Novosti interview.
According to the expert, no one is giving any guarantees that components of an American missile defense shield will not be deployed close to Russian borders. "What we need are concrete, feasible criteria to calm Russia down." Mizin said commenting on the Russian requirements and explained why "such a sharp tone was chosen for the Foreign Ministry's statement: it is a sort of last attempt to bring the U.S. to reason."
Global threat techniques
America is slowly deploying the European component of its worldwide anti-missile shield, actually building a global anti-missile defense system, in which mobile fire weapons (anti-missiles) can be employed within one target area (with data coming from all available radar and opto-electronic reconnaissance facilities).
This gradual but steady buildup of a global anti-missile shield system, which has come to be called a "flexible, phased approach," is irritating Moscow a great deal. And for good reason.
"For the moment, these systems do not worry us; they are in effect air defense systems. But in the future, they could acquire capabilities to engage our missile warheads. Especially if missile-carrying ships are stationed in the Arctic Ocean," Mizin warns.
It is this fact that is the main concern for Russia: the mobility of the basic strike components of the future missile defense system - and the gradual and seemingly imperceptible buildup of their combat capabilities.
"The General Staff estimates that starting in 2015 the European anti-missile shield will be in a position to have a certain negative impact on Russian nuclear deterrence capabilities. That is to say, from 2015 on, it will be able to intercept some of our ballistic missiles," Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the Natsionalnaya Oborona (National Defense) magazine, explained to RIA Novosti.
Commenting on the Russian stand at NATO talks, Korotchenko noted that Moscow is demanding that ground-based anti-missile defense weapons be moved away from the perimeter of Russia by a distance equal to their kill radius. In this scenario the system's configuration would allow NATO to intercept targets in its airspace but not over Russian territory.
Sectoral approach a dead-end street
By way of a counter-initiative to prevent an escalation of this dispute with NATO, Russia has been promoting the idea of a so-called "sectoral missile defense." It boils down to an official division of responsibility for anti-missile defense in Europe between the Russian and NATO segments so that both parties could bring down missiles flying towards each other as these entered their sectors.
In the view of some experts, the political feasibility for a sectoral missile system is unrealizable and, Mizin believes, "raising serious doubts even among our specialists." [As follows from this proposal], Russia would appear to undertake shooting down missiles flying over its soil, thus defending East European countries, which is totally unacceptable to them," the expert claims.
Captains of the Russian nuclear and missile industry are also critical. At the beginning of this year, Yury Solomonov, general designer at the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering who developed Russia's Topol, Yars and Bulava strategic missiles, openly criticized "the dead-end and absolutely non-realizable idea of a sectoral missile defense, which is a non-starter from the outset, at least psychologically." In his opinion, the level of confidence between Russia and the West is not high enough to implement such a project.
"A sectoral missile defense system would have been realized had NATO agreed to discuss it in practical terms," Korotchenko believes. "But the West buried the idea of equal security without a second thought."
Exchange center: a way out or a ruse?
To pursue the "sectoral" subject further, it could be said that the Russian-American problem here is above all one of a dearth of common ground for bilateral cooperation.
The U.S. administration has recently returned to its idea for a joint data exchange center on missile launches, where Russian and American (and possibly European) officers would work as a team. But prospects are still cloudy.
"It beats me why Russia is not promoting this idea," Mizin wonders. "In due course it received a favorable consideration but was then 'killed' under far-fetched pretexts like the indeterminate status of U.S. servicemen on Russian soil and tax problems."
Experts, however, do not all agree on the U.S. initiative for a data exchange center. "It is the same kind of an empty deal as the Russia-NATO Council, which is binding on no one in particular," Korotchenko says. "This has been done to avoid provoking Russia and to fob it off with a compromise so that we abandon plans to parry the threat by military countermeasures."
No breakthroughs likely
Russian leadership is nervous and, in Mizin's opinion, this is understandable: Russia has nothing to contribute to a joint anti-missile shield.
"The Americans bluntly say they do not need Russian technology because they are well ahead in anti-missile development," said Mizin.
But cooperation is possible: "What is required is not one joint system, but two parallel ones," the expert says. In his view, the United States could build a missile shield for Europe and Russia for its CSTO allies or a Eurasian Union as proposed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the other day.
"Under these circumstances, the negotiations could continue and no doors would be closed." Korotchenko believes. "But if the talks go nowhere, Russia would be advised to take proper measures in the military technical sphere. It should not hesitate and bluntly state that all components of Europe's missile defense system following 2015 will become prime targets for Russian strikes (including those involving nuclear weapons) in a hypothetical armed conflict."
"Not only are [Russia and the United States] making little progress but they are actually backtracking. This is a pity considering the dialogue that could have been initiated following the breakthrough at last year's NATO summit in Lisbon, Russian top brass and political elite are increasingly disappointed," Mizin added.
The situation is compounded by election campaigns in Russia and the United States. "Obama has his both hands tied up on all foreign and domestic policy issues, while anti-missile defense is the Republicans' sacred cow," Mizin says and concludes: "The next six or twelve months will see no breakthrough."
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.