Russia Unmoved by European Missile Shield Adjustment

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, October 8, 2010

Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, October 8, 2010 (Marc Veraart)

A change in American plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe will not prompt Russia to abandon its opposition to the system, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Sunday.

Alexei Pushkov, who chairs the Russian parliament’s foreign relations committee, told the Reuters news agency it would be “premature” to reassess the nation’s opposition to the missile shield. “The United States is readjusting the missile defense system due to financial and technology issues; issues not related to the Russian position,” he argued.

Chuck Hagel, the American defense secretary, announced earlier in the week that the United States will not deploy missile interceptors in Poland and Romania as part of a NATO defense system for Europe. $1 billion will be allocated to add fourteen such interceptors to the twenty-six already deployed in Alaska instead to defend against a possible North Korean attack.

Hagel insisted on Friday that the change was made for financial reasons and to bolster the United States’ own defenses. He also said that construction of the rest of the European missile shield would go ahead as planned.

If the change was in fact made to appease the Russians who have opposed the missile shield from the start because, they say, it would undermine their own deterrent, it does not appear to have had that effect.

President Barack Obama first canceled parts of the system, proposed by his Republican predecessor to protect NATO allies from Iranian missile attacks, as part of an attempt to “reset” relations with the Kremlin when he withdrew plans to build a radar installation in the Czech Republic in 2009. He also replaced missile interceptors that were supposed to be placed in Poland with less potent systems that could not threaten Russia’s defenses. Late last year, he was overhead promising his Russian counterpart more “flexibility” on an issue that has frustrated American-Russian relations throughout his first four years in office.