The USA insists its anti-missile system, to be based in the Czech republic and Poland, is designed to protect Europe against attack from, for example, Iran. However the project is unpopular in the two countries, and Russia is doing its best to shoot down the plan, as it insists the missiles could be pointed at them.
The Russians say better protection could be afforded by siting the system in Turkey, or in Russia itself. Few people there are convinced the system is not primarilly designed with them in mind.
Top General Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of strategic missile forces, joined the debate on Monday:
“I think this plan is indeed muscle-flexing, but we are also showing that Russia will uphold its interests through diplomatic, political, and if necessary, military resources”.
Logic dictates the system, designed to shoot down incoming missiles early in their flight path, should be sited as close as possible to the perceived threat.
Russia’s President Putin has been angered by the project. At last week’s international defence conference in Munich he delivered his strongest criticisms yet of US policy. He said the Gorbatchov/Reagan 1987 medium-range missile treaty was “outdated”, and the US “was overstepping its national borders in every area”.
Putin warned relations were returning to a cold war atmosphere. US defence minister Robert Gates admitted he was “an old cold warrior”, and that the speech had almost “filled him with nostalgia for a less complex time”.
Analysts say the row is part of Russia seeking to reassert itself internationally, but its military machine is no longer capable of challenging the West.
However that is no comfort to Czechs or Poles who fear any base will be a prime target for Russian attack.