NATO rebuffs Russian threats to counter missile shield

December 7, 2011

Russia’s threat to install countermeasures against a planned missile-defense system in Europe are reminiscent of “the confrontation of a bygone era” and reflect a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the West’s intentions, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday.

“NATO’s position is clear,” Rasmussen said at a news conference following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. “We need missile defense for our own security. We believe our defenses would be more effective if we cooperate . . . this is why we invited our Russian partners” to participate in the system.

A U.S. official who attended the meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that NATO will “continue to deploy” with or without Russia’s participation.

Since NATO approved the U.S.-designed system at last year’s summit, Poland, Spain, Turkey and Romania have agreed to deploy some of its components. Negotiations with the Russians have “been slower than I expected,” Rasmussen told reporters earlier.

“People in Russia think it’s directed against them,” the U.S. official said. The Obama administration and its European allies have insisted that the system is directed toward possible long- and medium-range missiles from the Middle East. Russia, they have insisted, needs protection from the same threat.

Negotiations stalled after NATO said that Russia’s demand for a binding guarantee that the system would never be used to undermine or counter its defenses was unnecessary.

The issue is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with NATO ministers Thursday at a session of the NATO-Russia Council.

Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to withdraw from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — known as New START — on nuclear weapons reductions if NATO proceeded with the missile-defense system. He also said that Russia would prepare to deploy new ballistic missiles on its European border.

Tensions increased last week when Russia’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, indicated that his government might cut off northern routes for U.S. and NATO supplies into Afghanistan. The route, called the Northern Distribution Network, has become increasingly vital to the Afghanistan war effort since Pakistan shut down its border crossings into Afghanistan after a U.S. air attack killed two-dozen Pakistani soldiers late last month.

A second U.S. official said that Rogozin has indicated that his remarks were taken “out of context.” A NATO official said it remains “unclear what he said.”

At his news conference, Rasmussen said that Russia’s comments about the supply network were “an empty threat . . . because it is clearly in Russia’s self-interest to contribute to success in Afghanistan.” Russia, he said, “knows from bitter experience that instability in Afghanistan has negative repercussions in Russia as well.”

More than half the supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan now arrive from the north.

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