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Elements of the Cold War returned last week as American plans for missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic were met with strong words from Russia.
President Vladimir Putin said the plans were a threat to Russia’s national security. General Nikolai Solovtsov, head of Russia’s Strategic (Rocket) Forces (i.e., nuclear missiles), said, “So far we have seen nothing being done, only intentions being talked about. But should the Polish and Czech governments decide [to host the U.S. missile shield], the strategic missile forces will be capable of having these installations as their targets if a relevant political decision were made” (Reuters).
A spokesman for NATO referred to the general’s statement as “out of date and uncalled for.”
General Solovtsov also said that Russia’s resurgent military-industrial complex, which has undergone years of re-investment under President Putin, was capable of any task, including producing an arsenal of new missiles able to penetrate any U.S. missile defense umbrella.
“Russia is ready for any scenario now,” he said, reiterating several times during the news conference that the military would strictly follow political direction (Reuters).
When asked about a new arms race, the general said, “During the Cold War we competed by boosting the number of missiles, launching pads. I do not think we will go again along this path. We can now solve the task through quality of weapons, rather than through their quantity” (Reuters).
On the following day, the Czech Foreign Minister said, “We have quite an experience with Russians. You have to make clear to them you won’t succumb to blackmail. Once you give in to blackmail, there’s no going back. We have to be strong” (Reuters).
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek had indicated earlier that both his country and Poland were “likely to give a positive answer” to Washington’s request for bases in these two nations.
Later in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Berlin for talks with Germany’s foreign minister, insisted that the planned missile defense installations were meant to deal with threats from Iran and similar “rogue states,” and that Poland and the Czech Republic were independent nations that could make their own decisions.
Secretary Rice, very knowledgeable regarding missile technology, also said, “Anyone who knows anything about this will tell you there is no way that 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic are a threat to Russia, that they are somehow going to diminish Russia’s deterrent of thousands of warheads” (AFP).
The situation illustrates that (1) U.S.-Russian tensions will continue to rise, particularly as Russia increases its rhetoric against NATO’s eastward expansion and as America intensifies pressure on Russia’s ally Iran; and (2) Europe remains strategically divided, with Germany and France seeking closer ties to Russia, while Poland, the Czech Republic and some others in Eastern Europe seek an ally in the U.S.
Circumstances, however, will provide an opportunity for most of Europe to truly unite under the leadership of one strong individual—an alliance that will, at least at first, also ally closely with Russia.