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Russian leader's remarks reflect deep divide on missile plans for Europe

STUTTGART, Germany — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday warned that Russia must be prepared to counter U.S. missile defense plans for Europe, underscoring a deep political divide with the U.S. that some missile defense experts say won’t be easy to resolve.

In comments broadcast on Russian national television, Medvedev said Russia “isn’t shutting the door to dialogue,” The Associated Press reported. However, countermeasures are needed in the event those discussions fail to produce results, the Russian president said.

“By 2017-2018 we must be fully prepared, fully armed,” the AP quoted Medvedev as saying.

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While the U.S. says its missile defense plan, the so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach, is directed at neutralizing threats from Iran, Russia has long been skeptical of the program. For more than a year, NATO and Russia have struggled to find common ground on missile defense. The U.S. and its allies in NATO have sought Russian cooperation while stopping short of offering Russia the role of jointly operating the system. In lieu of that, Russia has sought from the U.S. concrete legal guarantees that the missile defense system would not be aimed at Russia. Analysts have said such a deal is unlikely in the U.S., where such a measure would likely face significant resistance on Capitol Hill.

Riki Ellison, chairman of the Virginia-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, says winning Russian cooperation on missile defense would likely come at too high a cost, such as offering access to classified data about U.S. missile system capabilities — interceptor ranges, for example.

“These are things that any military would like to know. For us to give that away for pacification is ludicrous,” Ellison said. “We have to say, at some point, ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I think we call their bluff and move forward.”

When the Obama administration announced plans for the European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in 2009, the plan focused on four phases of development. The first, which was launched last year, involved the deployment of the sea-based Aegis weapon system in the Mediterranean. Phase two calls for the deployment of about 200 sailors to man a similar land-based system in Romania by 2015.

Phases three and four, the more controversial aspects of the program, call for the development of weapons systems capable of countering intercontinental ballistic missiles. For Russia, such a system is seen as a threat.

“Even though the talks are ongoing, we must get ready for a serious rearming of the armed forces so that we could be in a due shape and capable to respond to the missile defense in Europe,” Medvedev said on Tuesday, according to the AP.

Ellison, meanwhile, contends deploying more missile defense assets to the Middle East should be more of a priority than developing systems to defend Europe. Nonetheless, the European program still needs to move forward, with or without Russian support, particularly in light of the U.S. decision to withdraw two Army brigades from Europe, he said.

“I still think, when we’re reducing BCTs (Army Brigade Combat teams) in Europe, we have to have some capability there that can assure those guys we are still fully engaged,” Ellison said. “Missile defense plays a role in that.”

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil
 

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