Russia's military brass warned of pre-emptive strikes at U.S. missile defences in Europe as talks with America over the controversial shield were near a “dead end”.
“We have not been able to find mutually-acceptable solutions at this point and the situation is practically heading towards a dead end,” said Russia's Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov opening an international conference on missile defence issues in Moscow on Thursday.
Russia's Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov warned that Russia could be forced to launch a pre-emptive attack on the U.S. missile shield in Europe with short-range Iskander missiles deployed in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave near Poland.
“Given the destabilising nature of the [U.S.] missile defence system, namely the creation of an illusion of inflicting a disarming strike with impunity, a decision on pre-emptive use of available weapons will be taken when the situation gets aggravated,” General Makarov told the audience.
The two-day conference, “Missile Defence Factor in Forming a New Security Space,” has drawn more than 200 ranking defence officials and military experts from over 50 countries, including all the 28 NATO members.
The conference is Moscow's last-minute attempt to impress its concerns upon NATO countries ahead of the alliance's summit in Chicago later this month where the U.S. missile shield in Europe will get its final seal of approval. Russian officials used computer graphics projected on a huge screen to show how NATO missiles could eliminate Russian rockets by the end of the decade.
“A thorough analysis by the [Russian] Defence Ministry's research organisations showed that once the third and fourth stages of missile defences are deployed, they will have a real capability to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles,” said General Makarov.
However, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow claimed the Russian computer modelling was based on wrong data. He said the U.S. missile shield is “not and will not be directed against Russia,” and anyway, Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles are “too fast and too sophisticated” for the planned system to intercept.
Washington has rejected the Russian proposal to build a joint missile defence in Europe and refused either to limit the capability of U.S. interceptors or to give Moscow legally binding guarantees that they will not target Russian missiles.
“We cannot agree to any limitations on our missile defence deployments,” said Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. special envoy for strategic stability and missile defence, ahead of the Moscow conference.
“Russia cannot believe in the sincerity of ‘what-we're-doing-is-not-against-you' assurances since despite Russian concerns the U.S. has not modified any of its anti-missile programmes,” said Russia's Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov.
As a goodwill gesture, Russia has offered to make an excursion for the delegates to the heart of Moscow's A-135 missile defence system which protects the Russian capital.