Role of Black Sea in US missile defense unclear

Standard Missile-3
Within just two weeks the US has voiced two completely different stances on placing elements of its missile defense shield in the Black Sea – but which of these is true?

The US does not intend to move Aegis ships to the Black Sea, US Under-State Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher told journalists on Monday as cited by Itar-Tass. She also underlined that there are no plans to deploy missile defense shield elements in the Black Sea.

Earlier, however, a different approach was voiced by US officials. On February 4, Romania announced its readiness to host American anti-ballistic interceptors on its soil. Confirming the plans, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said back then that missile defense shield elements placed in Romania will be on land, and “sea-based elements are also planned.”

The move raised Moscow’s concerns despite reassurances from both the US and Romania that were quick to follow. The “emerging missile defense architecture in Europe is not aimed at Russia, but rather the emerging threat from Iran,” Crowley said, repeating the same line the American administration has been maintaining for quite a while now.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the idea of placing a US missile defense element in the Black Sea would contradict the Montreux Convention, which limits the passage of warships of non-Black Sea states through the Black Sea straits.

Speaking Monday, Tauscher stated Russia has been “consistently advised as to what the phased adapted approach is and what the plans are for the four pieces of the timetable since the announcement was made by President Obama in mid-September.”

“And my Russian counterparts were informed that I was going to be in Romania and that the president was going to offer Romania the opportunity to host Phase 2 in 2015 – the land-based SM-3 site. And we have a Ballistic Missile Defense review and the Russians have been consistently briefed on it as our NATO allies,” Itar-Tass quotes her as saying.

She said the US plans to install three interceptor missiles groups, which would hold 24 SM-3 interceptors, in Romania. However, the issue is still to be negotiated.

As for Bulgaria – another player who has voiced its willingness to join the project – Tauscher stated that the US has not requested Sofia to adopt elements of the missile shield. The door, however, “remains open”.

Notably, the clarification that the US does not intend to place its warships in the Black Sea came just as Moldova’s unrecognized republic of Transdniester said that it was ready to host Russian Iskander missile systems.

Obama’s ABM system differs little from Bush’s

The issue of Romania – and possibly Bulgaria – hosting American missiles was “quite unexpected” for Russia, said Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, in an interview with Rossiya 24 news channel. He said it is only a “slight change” from America’s previous position, since before they had considered Poland and the Czech Republic as sites to deploy the missile shield.

The most regrettable thing, Kosachyov added, is that these new plans “do not fit in any way the well-known ‘reset’ effort in Russian-American relations.”

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama agreed earlier that it was necessary to seriously assess the nature of missile threats facing the US, Europe and Russia "in a scientific manner and without any emotions," Kosachyov noted, after which further steps could be taken. Russia and the US came to an agreement on the issue.

"Then, all of a sudden, we see the Americans continuing to take some parallel practical measures, which are not transparent and unclear to us," Kosachyov said. "We cannot yet say to what extent all this threatens our security, and our experts are working on it.”

Moscow needs to get appropriate explanations from the Americans and requests have already been made, Kosachyov said. He added that members of the State Duma International Affairs Committee will travel to Washington within the next few days and the missile defense issue will be among the most important on the agenda.