The Russian military is sharply criticizing plans by the United States to install parts of its Missile Defense Initiative (MDI) in Eastern Europe.
Washington formally approached Poland and the Czech Republic last week to start discussions about hosting parts of its MDI system, which combines a long-range radar system with rockets to shoot down hostile missiles in space. The United States government is currently investing about $10 billion a year to develop the missile shield system. Under the proposal, Poland could become the base for an underground missile silo and the Czech Republic would host the accompanying radar system -- making it the biggest part of the so-called "Son of Star Wars" defense system outside America.
Russian military officials say they harbor serious doubts about the US claim that it is merely seeking to defend itself from nuclear threats from Iran and other rogue states.
"Our analysis shows that the placing of a radio locating station in the Czech Republic and anti-missile equipment in Poland is a real threat to us," Lieutenant-General Vladimir Popovkin, commander of Russia's space forces, told news agencies on Monday. If Washington were serious about monitoring Iran, he argued, it would build its radar station in Turkey.
Russia fears that the system could upset the balance of power in Europe and kick-start an arms race between the former Cold War enemies. It also threatened Poland with unspecified measures if Warsaw accepts the proposal. Poland was a member of the Warsaw Pact alliance which operated as the Communist counterpart to the NATO during the Cold War. The country switched sides after the fall of Communism and Defense Minister Radek Sikorski now describes the US as his country's "most important ally."
Officials in Washington rejected Russian criticism, saying the governmenti is open to cooperating with Moscow. "We believe that building infrastructure of the anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic will significantly boost the defences of a united Europe," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita. "I want to stress that the anti-missile system is not aimed at Russia." In addition to protecting the US and its troops abroad, another spokesperson from the US State Department added that the system could also provide a safety shield for its allies in Europe.
As for Poland and the Czech Republic, the move could be a sign that they don't fully trust the European Union to provide their security. One analyst even said it could be interpreted as a signal that the two countries aren't interested in the formation of a joint EU security policy. "The current governments are in favor because both of them are right-of-center and Euro-skeptic and they think that as far as security is concerned, they have to maintain very close ties with the United States," Jiri Pehe, a Czech political analyst and director of New York University in Prague told the Associated Press. Both countries require parliamentary approval before they can reach a formal agreement with Washington, but public opposition -- at least at this early stage -- is strong.
The US currently has inceptor bases in Alaska and California. Other countries with working missile programs are Russia, Israel and Japan whilst 15 more are currently developing them.