Russia has expressed concern over Romania turning into a NATO outpost and a «clear threat» because it hosts part of US ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe. «Romania's stance and the stance of its leadership, which has turned the country into an outpost, is a clear threat for us», Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, the head of the Fourth European Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told the Interfax news agency on February 9.
The comments come as Russia hit out at the recent deployment of NATO forces to Eastern Europe, including the Baltic States. «This deployment is of course a threat for us», said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov.
According to Botsan-Kharchenko, Romania has taken other actions directed against Russia, including the implementation of sanctions on Russia imposed by the EU. «We saw from Bucharest a definitely anti-Russian, even Russophopic line during their inspired implementation of the sanctions or in their anti-Russian rhetoric», he said.
The statement does not mention the recent US BMD test that at first glance does not have immediate relation to the Russia-Romanian relations. In reality it does. The US Missile Defense Agency, the Japan Ministry of Defense and US Navy successfully used a ship-launched Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA to intercept a medium-range ballistic missile target for the first time on February 3 in Hawaii. USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) detected and tracked the target missile with its AN/SPY-1D(V) radar and Aegis Combat System Baseline 9.C2 system. The ship fired a SM-3 Block IIA – being jointly developed by the US and Japan – and intercepted the target.
At present, the Romanian deployment uses the SM-3 Block 1B missile to be equipped with the enhanced version later. The SM-3 Block IIA missile is a larger version of the SM-3 IB in terms of boosters and the kinetic warhead, which allows for increased operating time. The second and third stage boosters on the SM-IIA are 21» in diameter, allowing for longer flight times and engagements of threats higher in the exo-atmosphere.
A BMD site on Romania’s territory was activated in May 2016. This key element of the missile shield is due to be fully operational in 2018 – the year another Aegis Ashore will be installed in Poland. NATO says the system is deployed against Iran, not Russia. Moscow believes the real aim is to weaken its strategic nuclear deterrent to upset the balance of power into US favor. The BMD in Europe reduces its chances of a successful retaliation in the event of being attacked by another country's nuclear missiles.
Aegis Ashore uses the naval Mk-41 launching system, which is capable of firing long-range cruise missile. The can be can be retrofitted to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles instead of interceptors. This is a blatant violation of the INF Treaty.
Last May, Russian President Vladimir Putin made some remarks about the Romanian BMD facility, explaining the gist of the problem. Speaking to top defense and military industry officials, Putin said the system was aimed at blunting Russia's nuclear arsenal. «This is not a defense system. This is part of U.S. nuclear strategic potential brought onto a periphery. In this case, Eastern Europe is such periphery», the president said. «Until now, those taking such decisions have lived in calm, fairly well-off and in safety. Now, as these elements of ballistic missile defense are deployed, we are forced to think how to neutralize emerging threats to the Russian Federation», Putin noted.
Coupled with deployment in the Mediterranean of US ships carrying Aegis missiles and other missile shield elements in Poland, the site in Romania was «yet another step to rock international security and start a new arms race», the Russian president emphasized.
Russia has put forward a number of proposals related to cooperation with NATO in the field of missile defense making conditional the right of joint decision over the configuration and parameters of the system, as well as international legal guarantees that the system will not undermine Russia’s nuclear potential. It has also come up with the initiative on introduction of sectoral missile defense, in which the Russian armed forces would take responsibility for the defence of NATO’s eastern region. All these and other proposals have been rejected.
The NATO plans to beef up its Black Sea presence on land around a Romanian-led multinational framework brigade to be formed thus year. At least seven states will contribute with troops and equipment to the NATO army in Romania, while Romanian military will be sent to Poland. The unit will ensure the deployment of reinforcements, with non-NATO countries – Georgia and Ukraine – fully involved in the plans.
Romania has put forward a proposal for a regular trilateral format of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea, along with Turkey and Bulgaria, with the eventual participation of non-littoral NATO members.
Romania is to host NATO aircraft to increase naval and air patrols. US and Bulgaria launched joint regular patrols in the Black Sea last September. In response, Russian to deploy S-400 long-range systems in Crimea.
The steps to increase the alliance’s military presence in the Black Sea will be discussed at the upcoming defense chiefs meeting on February 15-16 as well as mini-summits that will take place during the first semester of this year.
One thing leads to another. It should be clear that the countries that host BMD sites automatically become targets for Russia’s retaliatory strikes. The decision to host a BMD site automatically makes Romania a target.
With the Russia-NATO relations at the lowest ebb, Romania appears to be its best to further deteriorate the Russia-NATO and Russia-Romania relations. Bucharest negatively affects the fragile regional security balance by inviting foreign troops and inciting tensions in the Black Sea.
The two countries have a long history of friendship and cooperation. Today the relationship is in jeopardy. There is each and every reason to doubt the wisdom of such policy fraught with negative, or even dire, consequences. Russia did not start it. The Romanian government has been warned.