How they see us: Russian impotence on missile defense

Russia is angry over the agreement between the U.S and the Czech Republic to create a missile defense system and responded with a threat to act militarily, but what options does it really have?

Russia is threatening military action, said Alexander Reutov in the Moscow Kommersant. Last week, the U.S. and the Czech Republic signed an agreement to create part of a missile-defense system. The U.S. says the system is intended to guard against “rogue states” such as Iran, but it could also intercept Russian missiles. The Foreign Ministry responded quickly, saying: “If a missile defense shield is actually stationed near our borders, we will be forced to react with military and technical, rather than diplomatic, means.” But what options does the Kremlin really have? It could withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eliminated short- and medium-range nuclear missiles from European territory. That would enable it to station nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, a Russian territory inside Europe, bordered by Poland and Lithuania. But creating and deploying such weapons would be extremely expensive, and they’d be useless unless Russia also deployed jamming devices to cripple the Czech-based radar. Such measures are unlikely. “This is supposed to be a time of peace,” military analyst Alexander Khramchikhin pointed out. “Nobody ever goes that far in a time of peace.”

Some peace, said the Moscow Nezavisimaya Gazeta in an editorial. When Washington first proposed stationing missile defenses in Eastern Europe, it said it would discuss its plans thoroughly with Russia and listen to Russian concerns. We took those assurances as a sign that the two countries had entered “a post–Cold War era.” But the “longer the discussions continued, the more hollow the American promises appeared.” Washington, it seems, was prepared to listen to Russian concerns only to reject them out of hand. Maybe the Cold War isn’t over after all.

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