In comments that got past editors in the Western news media, President Vladimir Putin in a recent Russian television interview accused the West of abusing what were good relations at the time (1999-2004) to expand NATO up to Russia’s borders. And in doing so, he specified, violated verbal pledges made by American officials to then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, adding that the latter is alive and in good health and can confirm what he was told. In a candid assessment of the matter, Putin added, “I do not want to use harsh words, but they simply spat upon our interests and that’s that.”
Lengthy excerpts of his comments were published on the English-language site of the government news agency TASS on June 9.
The most significant, and most alarming, aspect of the interview is the Russian president’s warning of Ukraine joining NATO, which contrary to what he acknowledged is a dismissal of that prospect by many experts in Russia and in the West he takes seriously, especially in regard to its membership providing the U.S. and NATO with new missile sites.
Without naming them he mentioned that Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) missile defense (so-called) interceptors in Romania and Poland could strike Moscow in 15 minutes if a warhead was added to them; which, although the West denies its intent to do so, could be easily done. Russia has not been invited to inspect the missiles, for example. Paraphrasing the head of state, the TASS report disclosed the above threat is eminently practicable “because the missile defense launch systems stationed there can be used to carry out strikes as well.”
Installing SM-3s in Ukraine, Putin warned, would reduce the time needed to strike Moscow to 7-10 minutes. “Is it a red line for us or not?” he asked.
He also drew the inevitable comparison with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when he estimated Soviet missiles on that island nation could have hit Washington in 15 minutes, adding another parallel: “To lower this flight time to 7-10 minutes, we should station our missiles on Canada’s southern border or Mexico’s northern border. Is it a red line for the US or not?”
Though perfectly transparent and accurate in all regards, his comments have been ignored and, if brought to people’s attention, would be dismissed. That’s how wars and that’s how a nuclear catastrophe beyond a healthy mind’s powers of comprehension can occur. Sleepwalking into Armaggedon.
Five years ago the U.S. installed an Aegis AN/SPY-1 radar and twelve missile tubes for Standard Missile-3 Block IB interceptors at Deveselu in Romania, and plans to do the same in Poland under an initiative called Aegis Ashore or European Phased Adaptive Approach, first announced by the Barack Obama administration in 2009. Aegis Ashore is derived from the Aegis Combat System used by U.S. Navy to equip American warships and those of its allies with SM-3s to shoot down other nations’ missiles. The U.S. has 62 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (with more under construction) and 22 Ticonderoga-class cruisers that are equipped for the Aegis Combat System. They can fire the same SM-3s Vladimir Putin warned about in his interview.
In addition to presenting the threat to Russia described above, the U.S. and its allies, in ringing Russia in with land- and sea-based interceptor missiles, could not only undermine but neutralize its deterrence capabilities. Any Russian missiles surviving a first-strike attack by the U.S. and NATO would be shot down with interceptors. At the NATO summit in 2012 the military bloc endorsed the second phase of a so-called missile defense policy; NATO’s and the U.S.’s systems are fully integrated. The European Phased Adaptive Approach includes SM-3s on American destroyers and cruisers in the Atlantic and Mediterranean as well as missiles placed in Romania and Poland. Washington has also recruited nations to Russia’s east, the Asia-Pacific region, into the Aegis Combat System; to date Japan, South Korea and Australia. NATO members Norway and Spain are also directly integrated into the system.
On June 11 the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa site simultaneously announced that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon entered the Black Sea and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Roosevelt arrived in Gdynia, Poland on the Baltic Sea.
The first occurred despite the cancellation of the deployment of two American warships to the Black Sea in April allegedly for fear of too openly antagonizing Russia. Instead, it was announced shortly afterward that two British warships assigned to the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier’s strike group, a destroyer and a frigate, would substitute for them. The latter may occur shortly.
Five American warships were in the Black Sea earlier this year, including the Aegis-class destroyers USS Donald Cook and USS Porter in January and the USS Thomas Hudner destroyer and USS Monterey cruiser in March.
While in the Black Sea, Laboon will, according to U.S. Navy, conduct “multi-domain operations with a U.S. Navy P-8A aircraft from Patrol Squadron VP-40 and NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS).” The press release announcing the warship’s entry into the sea states: “The U.S. Navy routinely operates in the Black Sea to work with our NATO Allies and partners, including Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine.” That is, five of the Black Sea’s six (recognized) littoral nations. The other of course is Russia.
Laboon is currently assigned to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, so its presence (and that of other Aegis-class warships so assigned) is independent of the four American guided-missile destroyers based (on a rotating schedule) at the Naval Station Rota in Spain as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and in conjunction with NATO.
The Navy release also states: “The ship’s operations in the Black Sea will strengthen interoperability with NATO allies and partners and demonstrate collective resolve to Black Sea security under Operation Atlantic Resolve.” The latter is a Pentagon operation launched in 2014 along what NATO calls its Eastern Flank from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
On June 11 the Navy also reported that USS Roosevelt had docked at the Polish port city of Gdynia to refuel while engaged in this year’s massive Baltic Operations 50 (BALTOPS) war games.The destroyer’s commander said of the event, “During BALTOPS, Roosevelt has honed our skills in air, surface, and anti-surface warfare exercises with our NATO partners.” Russia is the only Baltic Sea nation that is not a NATO member or Enhanced Opportunities Partner. All the others are: Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.
Roosevelt is one of four – soon to be six – U.S. interceptor-missile destroyers based in Rota, Spain. The Navy says this about their capacity and their mission: “These Forward-Deployed Naval Forces-Europe ships have the flexibility to operate throughout the waters of Europe and Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope to the Arctic Circle, demonstrating their mastery of the maritime domain.”
Also on June 11 U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa announced – shortly after the Russian president had so powerfully warned of the SM-3 threat to his country – that Vice Admiral Eugene Black, commander alike of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, had inspected the five Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers assigned to Commander, Task Force 65 during a visit to Naval Station Rota on June 8. In addition to USS Arleigh Burke, USS Donald Cook, USS Porter and USS Ross forward deployed to Rota, he also visited USS Paul Ignatius, which too is currently assigned to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Navy press release on the subject stated that Arleigh Burke, Paul Ignatius and Ross had recently participated in the At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield 21 Integrated Air and Missile Defense exercise that was completed in Norway’s Arctic region on June 3. It also mentioned that Paul Ignatius had “conducted a cooperative engagement of a live medium-range ballistic target using a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor.” That event was described by a American military official involved in the exercise as “a ballistic missile intercept in outer space.”
President Putin is fully justified in sounding the alarm over NATO’s encroachment on and the U.S.-NATO missile threat against his nation. The pertinent question is why it’s taken him twenty years to do so.
Rick Rozoff is a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. He is the manager of Stop NATO. This originally appeared at Anti-Bellum.