The Pentagon’s decision to shift the focus of its global missile defence from Europe to Asia has failed to shake Russia’s adamant opposition to the U.S. plans.
A top Russian diplomat said the scrapping of the final phase of the U.S. missile shield for Europe announced by newly appointed U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel did not address Russia’s concerns.
“This is not a concession to Russia and we do not see it as such,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Kommersant daily on Monday.
Mr Hagel said Friday that the U.S. planned to cancel the fourth phase of the European missile defence system, which called for the deployment from 2018 of more powerful missile interceptors near Russia’s borders. Moscow claimed the interceptors would have the capability to shoot down Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Instead thhe U.S. now intends to put additional ground-based interceptors in Alaska to deal with a potential threat from North Korea.
The Pentagon insists the proposed change in missile defence plans has nothing to do with Russia’s objections, but U.S. analysts said the move “has opened the door” to new arms control talks with Moscow.
However, Moscow does not think the shift in U.S. missile defence plans would reduce potential risks to Russia. For one thing, Mr Ryabkov pointed out, the U.S. is still going ahead with the deployment of land-based and ship-borne mobile interceptors in Europe, which posed a threat to Russia.
Secondly, the deployment of extra U.S. interceptors in Alaska would “significantly expand U.S. capabilities in the sphere of missile defences,” according to Mr Ryabkov.
“Our objections remain,” the Russian diplomat said ahead of his meeting Tuesday in Geneva with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller to discuss the issue.
Russian experts said the U.S. plans to set up additional 14 missile interceptors on its Pacific Coast on top of 30 interceptors already deployed in Alaska and California were really aimed at China, not North Korea.
“The missile defences the U.S. is building in the Pacific will be capable of intercepting a retaliatory strike from China, which has 50 to 75 intercontinental ballistic missiles,” said Academician Sergei Rogov of the Institute of U.S. and Canada.
The fact that Moscow articulated its strong objections to the U.S. missile defence “pivot” to Asia two days ahead of a visit by new Chinese leader Xi Jinping's state visit to Russia is another indication of stronger political bonds between the two countries.