MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s president threatened on Wednesday to deploy missiles to target the U.S. missile shield in Europe if Washington fails to assuage Moscow’s concerns about its plans, a harsh warning that reflected deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with the Kremlin.
Dmitry Medvedev said he still hopes for a deal with the U.S. on missile defense, but he strongly accused Washington and its NATO allies of ignoring Russia’s worries. He said that Russia will have to take military countermeasures if the U.S. continues to build the shield without legal guarantees that it will not be aimed against Russia.
“I do think it’s worth reiterating that the European missile defense system that we’ve been working very hard on with our allies and with Russia over the last few years is not aimed at Russia,” said Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. “It is … designed to help deter and defeat the ballistic missile threat to Europe and to our allies from Iran.”
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.S. will continue to seek Russia’s cooperation, but that the U.S. missile defense plan in Europe “is going well and we see no basis for threats to withdraw from it.”
But Medvedev said Moscow will not be satisfied by simple declarations and wants a binding agreement. He said, “When we propose to put in on paper in the form of precise and clear legal obligations, we hear a strong refusal.”
Medvedev warned that Russia will station missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad region and other areas, if the U.S. continues its plans without offering firm and specific pledges that the shield isn’t directed at its nuclear forces. He didn’t say whether the missiles would carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the missile defense shield does not pose a threat to Russia and the strategic balance between Washington and Moscow.
“We don’t see any reason for Russia to take any military countermeasures to missile defenses that won’t affect the strategic balance between the U.S. and Russia,” he told reporters in Washington. “Unfortunately, you know, the rhetoric from Russia hasn’t changed even though we’ve tried for many years to engage with them constructively on missile defense.”
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “very disappointed” with Russia’s threat to deploy missiles near alliance nations, adding that “would be reminiscent of the past and … inconsistent with the strategic relations NATO and Russia have agreed they seek.”
“Cooperation, not confrontation, is the way ahead,” Rasmussen said in a statement.
The U.S. missile defense dispute has long tarnished ties between Moscow and Washington. The Obama administration has repeatedly said the shield is needed to fend off a potential threat from Iran, but Russia fears that it could erode the deterrent potential of its nuclear forces.
“If our partners tackle the issue of taking our legitimate security interests into account in an honest and responsible way, I’m sure we will be able to come to an agreement,” Medvedev said. “But if they propose that we ‘cooperate,’ or, to say it honestly, work against our own interests, we won’t be able to reach common ground.”
Moscow has agreed to consider a proposal NATO made last fall to cooperate on the missile shield, but the talks have been deadlocked over how the system should be operated. Russia has insisted that it should be run jointly, which NATO has rejected.
Medvedev also warned that Moscow may opt out of the New START arms control deal with the United States and halt other arms control talks, if the U.S. proceeds with the missile shield without meeting Russia’s demand. The Americans had hoped that the START treaty would stimulate progress in further ambitious arms control efforts, but such talks have stalled because of tension over the missile plan.