Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a visit to Greece, issued a threat to retaliate somehow against the installation of American missile defense systems in Eastern European countries.
Putin specifically mentioned Romania, where an American-built, NATO-operated missile defense system was certified in May, ostensibly to defend against attacks from rogue states like Iran.
“Missile defense is for defense,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, when Romania’s Aegis Ashore system was certified for operations a few weeks ago. “It does not undermine or weaken Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.”
This was evidently not good enough for Putin. “If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply didn’t know what it means to be in the cross hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security,” he said from Athens on Friday, as reported by CNN.
He did not stop with Romania, however. “It will be the same case with Poland. We will wait until Poland takes certain action. We won’t take any action until we see rockets in areas that neighbor us,” Putin added.
Poland is due to receive a similar missile defense system. Over the weekend, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski sought to reassure Russia that their missiles were no threat but also portrayed installation of the system as a response to Russian aggression.
“President Putin should know perfectly well that the anti-missile shield in Poland has no bearing on Russia’s security. This system is to defend Europe against a missile attack from the Middle East,” said Waszczykowski, as quoted by Radio Poland.
“The military presence of the Americans and multinational NATO troops is, however, a response to aggressive behavior and threats to us by the Russian authorities. This will be a presence of a defensive nature and not posing a threat to Russia,” he added.
“Any threats from Russia are unjustified and irresponsible. Russia knows full well that our Ballistic Missile Defense system is defensive and neither designed nor directed against Russia,” said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu, in response to Putin’s comments.
Romania’s former President, Traian Basescu, who began negotiations with the U.S. for a missile defense system in 2010, criticized current President Klaus Iohannis for not immediately responding to Putin’s threats.
“An immediate reaction would have been needed because, this time, it wasn’t a bellboy who spoke but President Vladimir Putin. A reaction as president to president was necessary,” Basescu said on Sunday. “It’s inadmissible that when a head of state threatens a state such as Romania the head of the Romanian state does not react.”
Basescu also accused Putin of telling a “big lie” about targeting Romania over its anti-missile system because, Basescu said, Russia has been “targeting” Romania ever since the day it joined NATO.
CNN cites analysts who doubt that Putin desires an armed conflict with NATO, but he is also not given to backing down from aggressive statements and looking weak. Also, Russia has long taken the position that missile defense systems are weapons of aggression. Even though the warhead-free interceptors have no offensive utility, the Russians envision offensive units firing with impunity from behind an interceptor shield, protected from retaliation.
NATO has been previewing an increased military presence in Poland, following a Warsaw summit scheduled for later this summer. Stoltenberg said this was intended to “send a clear signal that an attack on Poland will be considered an attack on the whole alliance.”
“I don’t want to say we have a ‘cold war’ in our relations with NATO, but the alliance seems to be opting for the cold war-era security schemes,” responded Russia’s envoy to NATO, Alexander Grushko.