US shield ‘encircles Russia’

February, 2008

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blasted US plans for an anti-missile shield in Europe, using a Polish newspaper interview to accuse Washington of imperialism and seeking to encircle Russia. "Elements of the strategic anti-missile defence system already exist or are being set up in Alaska, California, in northeast Asia. When you look at a map, it becomes clear that everything is concentrated around our borders," Lavrov told Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s leading quality daily. "In the near future we’ll probably be talking about hundreds or even thousands of interceptor missiles in different parts of the globe, including Europe. Poland is just a test case," Lavrov said.

The United States is currently negotiating with Warsaw and Prague on the possible installation of 10 interceptor missile sites in Poland by 2012 and associated radar stations in the Czech Republic. Washington says the sites are needed as part of a gradually developing shield to ward off potential attacks by what it calls "rogue states," notably Iran. But Russia strongly opposes the plans and considers them a grave threat to its national security. "You’d have to be really naive to think that an American anti-missile base in Europe is directed against anywhere else than Russian territory. It’s unfortunately hard to find any other explanation for this than an imperialist concept," Lavrov said.

"Russia isn’t afraid of 10 interceptors. It’s this tendency to bring American infrastructure closer to our borders which constitutes the real threat," he said. Russia will not "remain indifferent to the increase of American strategic potential on its borders," he added. Lavrov’s comments came on the eve of a visit to Russia by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who since taking office in November has pledged to mend ties with Moscow. Russian-Polish relations were frosty under Tusk’s conservative-nationalist predecessor Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose government gave gung-ho support to the US missile plan. Tusk’s administration has adopted a more cautious approach.

Amid concerns about the potential risks of hosting US missile interceptors, Warsaw has been pressing Washington to help upgrade the Polish armed forces, and notably to boost the country’s air-defence systems. Polish Defence Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in Washington last week that he had secured an agreement in principle for aid to modernise Polish air defences in return for Warsaw’s hosting the controversial US missile shield. But he added that "a great deal of work" remains, while his host, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, spoke of "some progress" and "some momentum" on missile defence.


In related news:

Russia threatens nuclear attack on Ukraine

Russia has threatened to target the Ukraine with nuclear warheads if the former Soviet republic joins Nato and accepts the deployment of United States anti-missile defences on its territory. President Vladimir Putin of Russia warned Ukraine’s leader Viktor Yushchenko of "retaliatory actions" should his country join the Western alliance during a joint press conference in Moscow. "It’s frightening not just to talk about this, but even to think about, that in response to such deployment, the possibility of such deployments - and one can’t theoretically exclude these deployments - that Russia will have to point its warheads at Ukrainian territory," he said. The Russian and Ukrainian leaders had just held emergency talks in the Kremlin to avert a energy supply crisis over Kiev gas bill - a similar dispute two years ago led to power cuts across Europe.

Mr Yushchenko responded to the Russian pressure by insisting on Ukraine’s right to decide its own foreign policy while stressing that his country’s constitution would not allow US military bases on its territory. "You understand well that everything that Ukraine does in this direction is not in any way directed at any third country, including Russia," he replied. "We follow the principle that any nation has the right to define its own security. Our constitution does not allow deployment by a third country or bloc on Ukrainian territory." Mr Putin has condemned Washington’s plans to include Poland and the Czech Republic in a missile defence shield as a "new phase in the arms race". Russia fears the shield will threaten its national security and tip strategic military balance in Europe. "The goal [of the missile shield] is to neutralise our nuclear capabilities," said Mr Putin. "This would prompt Russia to take retaliatory action." Moscow has already declared that Russia will pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which came into force in 1992 and restricts the deployment of troops and tanks near sensitive European frontiers.

Last week, John Chipman, the head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warned that the "next target of Moscow’s assertive revisionism "could be the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987. Both would be moves that would allow Russia to build a new generation of medium-range nuclear missiles capable of striking Western Europe. As relations between Russia and many of its near neighbours deteriorate, Ukraine has submitted a formal membership request to Nato, to be considered a summit of alliance leaders in the Romanian capital of Bucharest this April. Mr Putin has accepted an invitation to attend the meeting and Russia’s parliament last month voted to stop using Soviet-built military radars in Ukraine because of Kiev’s Nato ambitions. The prospect of Nato membership is also deeply controversial in the Ukraine, where opinion polls show that over half of the country opposes it.

Russia has revived the long-range air patrols that were once a standard feature of the Cold War and US defence officials confirmed that a pair of Russian TU-95 Bear bombers overflew a US aircraft carrier in the western Pacific at an altitude of 2,000 feet (660 meters) over the weekend. Four F-18 fighters jets intercepted the Russian bombers on Saturday morning, but not before they had overflown the USS Nimitz. It was the second time since July 2004 that a Russian Bear bomber has overflown a US aircraft carrier. It was not immediately known whether the United States issued any protests with the Russians.


Russia 'violates' Japan air space

Japan has lodged a formal protest accusing a Russian military aircraft allegedly violated its air space over the Pacific Ocean, according to a Japanese foreign ministry official. A Tupolev TU-95 bomber flew over the island of Sofugan, 650km south of Tokyo, for about three minutes from 7:30am (2230 GMT) on Friday, the defence ministry said. "We have asked the Russian government to make a thorough investigation into the matter," a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said. Russia denied entering Japanese air space but said that four of the strategic bombers had carried out a routine 10-hour mission over the Pacific. The Japanese air force scrambled 24 planes, including F-15 fighters and an E-767 radar plane, to intercept the Russian aeroplane.

'Warnings ignored'

According to a defence ministry statement, air force personnel gave "a notice, then a warning and another a notice and a warning".

"There was no response."

The plane then flew back north towards the Russian island of Sakhalin. However, Alexander Drobyshevsky, a Russian air force spokesman, said: "All flights of the Russian air force were carried out in accordance with international air space regulations without breaching the other states' borders." The aircraft were accompanied by Japanese and US war planes, Russia said. The TU-95, Russia's longest serving bomber, is capable of carrying AS-15 "Kent" cruise missiles which can deliver a nuclear warhead. The air force did not say if the aircraft involved were carrying live weapons.

'Serious modernisation'

The Tupolev design bureau said last year it had begun a "serious modernisation" of the TU-95 strategic bomber. Russia last violated Japanese air space in January 2006, when a Russian plane flew over Rebun Island, off the coast of Hokkaido, an island in the north of the country. Japan and Russia have never signed a peace treaty to formally end the second world war due to a dispute over four islands off Japan's northern coast seized by Soviet troops in 1945. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, announced in August of the resumption of long-range flights in international air space which were abandoned in 1992 due to financial difficulties following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Last week, 14 long-range bombers flew over the north Atlantic in the latest of a series of military manoeuvres held off Europe's coastline since December, Russian media reported.


Russian Air Force starts drills in 'northern latitudes'

Russia's Air Force announced on Wednesday the launch of a tactical exercise involving long-range aviation in "northern latitudes" to rehearse interoperability in air patrol missions. "The active phase of the tactical exercise has started under the command of long-range aviation commander Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov," said Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky, an aide to the Air Force commander. He did not say exactly where the exercise was being conducted or whether it was in Russia or outside its borders. The drill, including two heavy-bomber regiments and one aerial tanker regiment, is practicing midair refueling, flights over uncharted terrain and in difficult weather conditions, as well as landings on off-base, alternate airfields. Over 30 Tu-95 (Bear) strategic bombers, Il-78 (Midas) four-engine aerial refueling tankers, and Tu-22 (Blinder) supersonic bombers are participating in the exercise. Drobyshevsky earlier said that more than 20 airplanes would participate in the drill. Last August, Russia resumed long-range patrol missions of strategic bombers, which were suspended in 1992 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. It said air patrol areas would include zones of commercial shipping and economic activity and would be conducted on a permanent basis. NATO has requested that Russia give it advanced warning of military exercises.


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