ROAR: Missiles in Romania “may influence Russia-US reset”

Analysts are wary and skeptical of the first step in building “a new architecture of missile defense” that Washington is making in Romania.

Romania’s Supreme Defense Council has approved the plan to host anti-ballistic interceptors as part of the US missile defense shield. Romanian President Traian Basescu said his country had been invited by Washington to take part in the new system. The US medium-range land-based interceptor missiles will not be directed against Russia, he stressed.

US President Barack Obama in September 2009 scrapped the plans of the George Bush administration to deploy elements of the shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. Russia had strongly opposed the possible deployment.

Washington’s new missile defense strategy is to focus on deploying land- and sea-based interceptors based on the Standard Missile interceptor, SM-3 in the Mediterranean and in Central Europe. In Romania, the interceptors will be deployed by 2015, Basescu said.

The talks between Washington and Bucharest are expected to start soon, and the agreements should be ratified by the Romanian parliament.

Romania’s possible decision “to give shelter” to the missiles may hinder “the reset” of relations between Moscow and Washington, the Russian media say. “If the White House’s refusal to deploy the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in many ways eased the tension in Russian-US relations, now new frictions may arise,” RBC daily said.

“The meeting of Romania’s supreme defense council ended with a surprise statement from President Traian Basescu,” the paper said, adding that he is “known for his fierce Euro-Atlantic views.”

Basescu insists that the new system is directed not against Russia, but “against other threats,” probably referring to Iran, the paper said. Tehran’s nuclear program had always been “the main reason behind the deployment of the US missile defense in Europe,” it said. "However, the countries that had been chosen initially – Poland and the Czech Republic – prompted grave concern in Moscow and became the main source of tension in Russian-US relations,” the daily added.

Washington’s decision to abandon the previous administration’s plan “was warmly welcomed in Moscow,” the paper noted. But Obama made it clear that the US was going to develop an alternative plan, and Romania was mentioned among countries closer to Iran where the interceptors could be deployed, it said.

“This Romanian move has been expected,” said Aleksey Mukhin, general director for the Center for Political Information. As for the US – despite “the reset” – this demonstrates that Washington “is continuing with its active and even aggressive policy towards Russia in Central and Eastern Europe,” the analyst told RBC.

The plans to deploy interceptors in Romania, among other things, may also complicate the talks between Moscow and Washington on the new strategic arms reduction treaty, Mukhin said.

The revised anti-missile shield is intended to protect Europe against “the emerging threat to the region coming from Iran,” the US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. He also stressed that the deployment of medium-range ballistic missile interceptors in Romania is not directed at Russia.

Some analysts believe that Moscow may not be irritated this time. When the US wanted to deploy elements of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, “Russia stressed that if they are still to be deployed somewhere, then Romania and Bulgaria could be the best place,” Aleksandr Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, told Gazeta daily. He agrees that deploying interceptor missiles in Romania is conditioned by “the Iranian threat.”

At the same time, the analyst doubted that the Romanian president’s words could guarantee that “the US missiles will be deployed in that country.”“I think Basescu statement does not mean anything,” Khramchikhin said.

“It is clear that such decisions are taken in Washington rather than in Bucharest,” the analyst noted, adding that the case of Warsaw and Prague shows that the decision may be reversed.

It is difficult to expect an advance in the realization of this project in the medium-term perspective, said Evgenia Voyko of the Center for Political Conjuncture. The US administration has other key internal and external problems, including the choice of the post-crisis course in the economy and realizing a new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, she stressed.

The readiness of the Romanian leadership to boost its cooperation with the United States in the military sphere is partly explained by the “strengthened position” of Basescu, who was recently reelected president, Voyko said. Unlike Poland and the Czech Republic, which had been in the focus of the US Eastern Europe policy for a long time, Romania has been of secondary importance, she added.

Russian officials have not commented on the new development yet. However, Moscow has been opposing the creation a third position area of US missile shield in Eastern Europe. While Washington does not want to link these plans to the talks on strategic offensive arms, Moscow considers missile defense as part of a single strategic system, stressing that the country with an effective missile shield has offensive advantages.

The White House has been actively developing a new scheme of missile defense since last autumn. Vice President Joe Biden discussed it with America’s East European allies, visiting Warsaw, Prague and Bucharest in October, 2009. Washington announced plans to deploy ground-to-air Patriot missiles in Poland in 2010. The US also aims to deploy SM-3 missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic in 2015.

“Even a special term has appeared – a new architecture of missile defense,” NTV channel said. Romania will become a southern area of the new shield, and the northern one may also appear in Poland and the Czech Republic, despite Obama’s promises, it added.

“Romania is closer to Iran, of course, than Poland or the Czech Republic,” the channel said. "However, Turkey, an old member of NATO, is even closer,” it noted, adding that the Americans are negotiating the issue with the Turkish authorities. “The US military are also interested in cooperation with Moscow, and Russia’s radar stations could be included in the system,” the channel said. However, many observers stress that the cooperative effort has yet to bring visible results.

The US describes the development of interceptors in Romania as the first step in establishing “a new architecture of missile defense,” Vesti TV channel said. “However, it is still unclear if the new system will be effective, how real the Iranian threat is, and how the news plans will influence relations of the US and Romania with other countries, first of all, with Russia,” it added.

Moscow has warned that if the US continues to develop the missile shield without Russia’s participation, it will seek an alternative way to achieve a balance of power. “Our American partners are developing missile defenses, and we are not,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in December. So, Moscow will have “to develop an offensive combat power system,” he added.

Sergey Borisov, RT