Moscow Finds US Non-Strategic BMD Plans Threatening

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 38

United States President Barack Obama (left) with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

Russian officials – the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Chief of the General Staff, First Deputy Defense Minister Army-General Nikolai Makarov – have told journalists that a nuclear arms control agreement to replace the 1991 START treaty that expired on December 5, 2009, “is almost 100 percent ready” (Interfax, February 17). Makarov insists that the new draft treaty is balanced and “will not undermine Russian defenses.” However, Makarov added that the final negotiations are not easy, since US Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) plans are causing concern (RIA Novosti, February 24).

This month, Romania announced that it is ready to agree to a US request to deploy so called theater BMD interceptors on its territory after 2015. Moscow intimated that it is “concerned by Romania’s decision” and demanded clarification (RIA Novosti, February 5). Later, Bulgaria announced it is considering possibly deploying US theater BMD interceptors on its territory. Lavrov demanded explanations from Washington and expressed bewilderment: “How must we understand this, first a Romanian surprise, then a Bulgarian one?” According to Lavrov, Washington replied by stating that the potential BMD deployments in Romania and Bulgaria are part of the modified US plan to defend Europe against missile attack, announced by President Barack Obama last September, when he scrapped previous arrangements to deploy Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI’s) in Poland and a BMD radar in the Czech Republic (RIA Novosti, February 14).

Unlike the strategic GBI’s, the missiles intended for possible deployment in Romania and Bulgaria will either be Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptors developed for the US Navy with the Aegis system, or land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors. SM-3 and THAAD missiles have been developed to neutralize medium-range ballistic missiles and cannot intercept Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s). Iran, North Korea, China and other nations have medium-range ballistic missiles, but Russia does not. Under the 1987 treaty on Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) both Russia and the US eliminated all land-based missiles with a range of 500 kilometers (km) to 5,000 km. It would seem that the deployment of non-strategic BMD in Romania and Bulgaria does not threaten Russia.

Initially, Moscow expressed “concern.” Sergei Rogov, a government nuclear arms control expert and the director of the government-controlled Institute of USA and Canada Studies in Moscow, while denouncing “American unilateralism” in declaring its new BMD deployment plans, also called for calm. According to Rogov, there is “no need to panic,” since the deployment of theater BMD in Romania and Bulgaria does not pose an immediate threat and Russia has previously endorsed the idea of deploying non-strategic BMD in Europe, while opposing strategic BMD (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 19). Nevertheless, Rogov’s argument did not carry weight in Moscow. Former President George W. Bush’s plans for a limited strategic BMD deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland did not actually threaten Russia, but Russian political and military leaders deliberately created a standoff. The same process appears to be unfolding with the potential Romanian and Bulgarian BMD deployment plans.

The US Ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, told Interfax that the Russian government “knows well” Washington’s plans to deploy BMD and that they were discussed “on numerous occasions.” According to Beyrle, US BMD will not interfere with the START follow-on treaty (Interfax, Febrauary 18). The Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Andrei Nestorenko, in turn announced, “There are no ballistic missile threats to Europe, so we do not understand why they need to deploy any BMD” (, February 19). Of course, Moscow is implying that any BMD in Romania or Bulgaria is aimed at Russia.

Alexander Pikayev, a former fellow at the Carnegie Endowment Center in Moscow and now a government employed expert, announced that Russia may respond to a launch of a BMD interceptor with a nuclear attack on Romania, believing it is not an interceptor, but a ballistic missile aimed at Russian territory. According to Pikayev, debris from a successful US BMD intercept could contaminate the territory of Moldova or any other country. “The US is probably planning to deploy hundreds of BMD interceptors in Europe and this may reverse any nuclear disarmament agreement between Moscow and Washington,” stated Pikayev. If a follow-on START is signed, the Russian parliament will add amendments to the treaty that will link its implementation to US BMD deployment (Interfax, February 19).

Moscow’s main complaint is that Russia was “not consulted” about the potential BMD deployment in Romania and Bulgaria (RIA Novosti, February 24). Moscow has for some time insisted that the West must first secure Russian approval before deploying any weapons in former Russian-dependent nations like Romania, Bulgaria, or Poland, no matter whether it is BMD or any other system (EDM, January 21). The recently announced bilateral agreement between Washington and Warsaw to deploy a US military base with a battery of Patriot missiles less than 55 km from the border of the Kaliningrad region has enraged Moscow. Makarov declared that the Patriot deployment in Poland will not be involved in BMD, “but will threaten Russia, since this complex is aimed to defend against air force attacks they expect most probably from Russia, though we never announced such intent.” Makarov added that Russia will be forced to take “adequate measures” (RIA Novosti, February 24). Russia itself has reinforced its air defenses in Kaliningrad by deploying additional S-300 missiles, with two S-300 divisions deployed only 5 km and 17 km from the Polish border (Kommersant, January 25). Lavrov last week summed up the present state of US-Russian relations: “I will not say we are enemies, and I will not say we are friends” (Ekho Moskvy, February 19).