Russia and NATO spar over ‘shield’

Russia and NATO spar over ‘shield’

Russia and NATO spar over ‘shield’

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a media conference prior to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels. AP photo

Russian countermeasures to NATO’s ballistic missile defense system would be a waste of money because they would be aimed at an “artificial enemy,” NATO’s top official said yesterday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Brussels for two days of talks with her 27 allies including Turkey. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance still wants to reach a deal with Russia to cooperate on the shield after President Dmitry Medvedev threatened last month to deploy missiles to EU borders.

“It’s a shared interest to protect our populations against a real missile threat,” Rasmussen told reporters ahead of the talks, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov joining his counterparts on Thursday. “It would definitely be a waste of valuable money if Russia started to invest heavily in countermeasures against an artificial enemy that doesn’t exist,” he said, adding that Russia should instead spend in job creation and modernizing Russian society.

NATO and Russia have been at odds over the missile shield despite agreeing last year to explore ways to cooperate in the system, which Western official insist is aimed at warding off attacks from Iran or other “rogue states.” Romania and Poland have agreed to host part of a revamped U.S. missile shield. NATO-member Turkey has also decided to host an early warning radar at a military facility in the eastern province of Malatya.

Moscow wants its former Cold War foe to provide a legally-binding document stating the system is not aimed against Russia, but NATO says it has made enough statements to that effect and that cooperation is the best solution. NATO has also rejected Russia’s demand to build a common system that shares sensitive data and allows Moscow to have a say in when to respond to a possible attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that NATO had refused to provide a written guarantee that its planned missile shield for Europe poses no threat to Moscow. “Our friends in NATO categorically refuse to put on paper in legal form what they say verbally, namely that this missile defense project in Europe is not creating risks for Russia, is not directed against Russia,” Lavrov said during a visit to Lithuania.. “They know too well what the situation is and unless they listen and hear what we are saying, I don’t think we will be able to agree,” he said.

Russia’s top general, Nikolai Makarov, warned that Moscow was “being pushed” into a new arms race although it does not want one. “Russia does not need a new arms race, but we are being pushed into one,” Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov told a group of foreign military attaches. “Why is Russia being disengaged from Europe? Who needs this? We are ready to cooperate and jointly build a missile defense system,” Makarov said in reference to a proposal already rejected by NATO. “Why is no one willing to meet us half way? That means this is to someone’s interest.”

Medvedev last month announced that Russia was ready to deploy intermediate range Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave that borders EU members Poland and Lithuania. Russia later also switched on a new radar warning system against incoming missiles in Kaliningrad and said it reserved the right to strike NATO’s European shield components if its demands were not met. NATO and the U.S. have sought to improve ties with Russia since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. But Clinton irked Russia this week by voicing “serious concerns” about the country’s parliamentary elections and calling for allegations of fraud and vote-rigging to be investigated.