The deployment by the Kremlin of tactical weapons to protect against a planned U.S.-led missile shield in Europe would be to squander funds that could be used to improve living standards in Russia, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday.
“I have to say that it would be a complete waste of money to deploy offensive weapons against an artificial enemy – an enemy that doesn’t exist in the real world,” Rasmussen said in a video link-up from NATO headquarters in Brussels. “This money would be much better spent on economic and social development.”
Rasmussen’s comments come less than a week after outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was preparing a host of countermeasures to tackle NATO missile defense, including forward deployments of tactical Iskander missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.
Medvedev also said last week that time was “running out” for talks on the shield, which Russia sees a threat to its national security. However at talks in Seoul on Monday he told U.S. President Barack Obama that “dialogue on the topic is not only possible, but necessary.” The White House said on Monday Russia and NATO were unlikely to come to an agreement this year.
NATO says the shield is designed to protect against “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea. But negotiations between Russia and NATO member states on the U.S.-led missile defense project have deadlocked over the West's reluctance to give Moscow legally–binding guarantees that the shield will not be used against it.
And Rasmussen reiterated on Monday NATO verbal pledges that the shield was not intended for use against its Cold War-era adversary.
“The anti-missile shield is not directed against Russia, nor designed to attack Russia or undermine what Russia calls its strategic deterrent,” Rasmussen said. “We consider the missile threat a real threat and we want to protect our populations in NATO member states.”
He also repeated calls for Russia to join the shield project, saying that “The best way for Russia to ensure transparency would be to cooperate.”
Medvedev, who steps down in May, said on Friday that NATO member states “keep telling us ‘shield is for you.’ But how should we use it?”
Russia does not share the West’s concern over Iran’s nuclear program, while both Medvedev and President-elect Vladimir Putin have said the shield is designed to give NATO the edge in strategic nuclear balance.
But Russia’s reaction to the shield project has been “overemotional,” said Sergei Oznobishchev, of Moscow’s Institute of World Economics and International Relations.
“It’s nervous because it is not involved in dialogue as a real partner,” he added.
Russia has said the United States has failed to take into account Moscow’s concerns over the deployment of the shield on its doorstep.
But experts cast doubt on the effectiveness of any Russia response to the shield.
“Russia has nothing to counter the missile shield with,” said Vladimir Yevseyev of the Moscow-based Center for Socio-Political Studies. “A credible response is needed.”
Rasmussen said he would meet Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin “as soon as possible after his inauguration” – set for May 7.
The NATO head also praised U.S.-Russia cooperation on “Afghanistan and Somali piracy.”
Moscow announced groundbreaking plans in February to allow the U.S. and other NATO member states to use a Russian air base in the Volga city of Ulyanovsk as a hub for transits to and from Afghanistan. The decision provoked protests in Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin.
“We have no intention to establish a base in Russia,” Rasmussen said. “This is a pragmatic arrangement which allows us to transport non-lethal weapons and troops to benefit our operation in Afghanistan.”