Putin keeps close eye on US missile defense efforts

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Leaders' Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 15, 2015.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 12, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrated a detailed understanding of U.S. missile defense plans during a recent interview, avoiding generalities for specifics when discussing a deployment Moscow sees as a direct strategic threat.

“Naval forces that should operate as part of missile defense are deployed in Spain,” Putin said in an interview with Bild, Germany’s top-selling newspaper. “A positioning area has already been created in Romania, another one will be created in Poland by 2018; a radar is being installed in Turkey.”

Over the years, U.S. missile defense plans in Europe have been subject to extensive change and modifications, with complicated timelines for building a network of land- and sea-based radars and interceptors.

And Putin is up to speed on all of it — a sign of how seriously the Russian leader takes U.S. missile defense efforts.

The U.S. and NATO have been developing ballistic missile defense capabilities in Europe for more than a decade, citing the threat of Iranian short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The Navy recently stationed its fourth and final Aegis-equipped ship in Rota, Spain, part of the U.S.-developed missile shield known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach. It continues to develop ground-based interceptor sites in Romania and Poland.

Russia regards those interceptor sites as a threat to its own missiles, a claim the U.S. disputes.

During the Bild interview, Putin lashed out at the plan, which he said should be curtailed in light of the recent nuclear deal struck with Iran.

“In 2009, current President of the United States Barack Obama said that if Iran’s nuclear threat no longer existed there would be no incentive for establishing the ABM system; this incentive would disappear,” Putin said in a transcript of the Bild interview, which was released on Monday.

“Apart from NATO’s expansion eastwards, the anti-ballistic missile system has become an issue in terms of security. All this is being developed in Europe under the pretext of addressing the Iranian nuclear threat,” Putin added.

Shortly after a nuclear deal between the West and Iran was reached in July, U.S. officials rejected Moscow’s position that the agreement eliminated the need for missile defense. They cited Iran’s own ballistic missile program.

During the interview, Putin also lashed out at NATO for expanding eastward in the years since the end of the Cold War. The Russian leader said this violated an understanding between Moscow and the West that there would be no such expansion into Russia’s periphery.

NATO has repeatedly asserted no such agreement was ever made and that all nations have the right to seek their own alliances. But Putin noted that NATO members also have the right to turn down aspirant nations.