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Russian Threats Miss Point of Proposed Missile Defenses, Official Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2008 – Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev’s threat today to deploy missiles targeting proposed U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe misses the point that the system will be purely defensive and will pose no threat to Russia, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

“These are interceptors,” Bryan Whitman said of the system that will include 10 missile silos in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. “And they are designed to protect our European allies as well as the … United States from an emerging ballistic missile threat from the Middle East.”

Medvedev made headlines during his annual address to the Federal Assembly today, announcing that Russia will deploy short-range missiles in the Baltic Sea region in response to plans to build the missile defense system.

Russia also will develop jamming capabilities to counter the system, and cancel its plans to decommission a missile division in Kozelsk by 2010, Medvedev said.

The Russian president said Russia’s conflict with Georgia in the Caucasus served as “a pretext for the appearance of NATO’s warships and then, for the accelerated enforcement of America’s missile defense systems on Europe.”

Whitman emphasized that the United States has gone out of its way to reassure the Russians that the proposed missile defense system “is not a system that threatens them.”

“We have offered any number of transparency arrangements [and] briefings to try to mitigate their concerns,… and nothing in today’s news changes our position with respect to trying to collaborate [and] cooperate with our European partners,” he said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed similar sentiments last week, telling a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace audience he’s confident the Russians know the proposed system doesn’t threaten them. He called objections that 10 missile-defense interceptors would jeopardize Russia’s arsenal “laughable.”

“I think we’ve leaned forward pretty far and have been open with them about what we intend to do,” Gates said. “I think we have gone a long way toward providing the necessary assurances to Russia that this system is not aimed at them, but is aimed at a very limited threat coming from Iran.”

Gates noted proposals the United States has offered to help reassure Russia. One would allow Russia to have representatives at each site, if the host nation agreed, to provide technical monitoring of activities. Another would be to base a common-data-sharing center in Moscow.

Gates said he assured Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when Putin was president that the United States would not make the sites operational until the Iranians had tested a missile that could reach most of Western Europe, including parts of Russia.

“We have provided transparency in a number of ways,” Gates said. While the Russian military “has shown some interest in this,” Russians have “chosen to make an issue of the notion” for political reasons, he said.

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