‘Russian pre-emptive strike on ABM shield 'unjustified’ – NATO chief

Military personnel at the radar station of Moscow’s ABM system (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
NATO’s chief has called Russia’s threat of a pre-emptive strike on European missile defense systems ‘unjustified’. But while NATO maintains the ABM shield won’t threaten Russia, Moscow demands they back their words with legally-binding guarantees.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s comments on Friday followed resolute statements made by Russian officials at the Moscow ABM conference on the previous day.

Rasmussen described comments made by Russia's military chief-of-staff that Moscow may consider a pre-emptive strike in certain circumstances as “unjustified”.

"Our missile defense system is not technically designed to threaten Russia in any way and we have provided that information to the Russians. Politically, we don't have any intention to attack Russia,"Reuters quotes him as saying.

On Thursday, Nikolay Makarov had said that “considering the destabilizing nature of the [American] ABM system, namely the creation of an illusion of inflicting a disarming [nuclear] strike with impunity, a decision on pre-emptive deployment of assault weapons could be taken when the situation gets harder.”

Claiming that Russia and NATO had many shared defense interests, Rasmussen added "the best way for the Russians to see with their own eyes that our system is not directed against them would be to cooperate actively."

"We will continue our dialogue with Russia and I hope one day in the future we will reach an agreement," he continued.

However, last October NATO rejected a joint missile defense system proposed by the Kremlin, saying they could not entrust its security to countries outside the alliance.

Moscow staunchly opposes the deployment of a US-backed anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield along its borders. Russia says that as it is the only country possessing a nuclear arsenal capable of threatening US supremacy, the ABM shield would diminish its security and upset the strategic balance of power in Europe.

Moscow has long sought legally-binding guarantees from Washington and NATO that the missile systems will not target Russia.

Russia has also promised to deploy short-range Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region and hinted at putting missile defense radar in Transdniester if a more satisfactory compromise on missile defense is not forthcoming.

While Washington says it has not ruled out legally-binding guarantees on AMB, none have been forthcoming.

On Thursday, the US under-secretary of state, Ellen Tauscher told reporters at the Moscow ABM conference “Russia is constantly speaking about guarantees of ABM systems not targeting it, but we think we need to come to cooperation. We provide guarantees after we start cooperating.”