Experts form the Briefing with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

May 12, 2016

US missile defence base in Romania placed on combat duty, construction of missile defence base launched in Poland

On May 12, the US Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System, deployed near Deveselu, Romania, was placed on combat duty. The United States has now completed the second stage of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), announced in 2009 to deploy elements of the global missile defence system in Europe. Washington is now launching the third phase and is set to deploy another Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System with upgraded Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile interceptors in Poland. The so-called groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for May 13 in the village of Redzikowo.

Russia has, for several years now, repeatedly noted the risks to international security and strategic stability by the unilateral and unhindered deployment of the US strategic missile defence system.

We have suggested various options for resolving the situation around the missile defence system, and we were willing to cooperate, even suggesting the establishment of a sector-based missile defence system in Europe together with NATO that would be able to effectively shield the region from hypothetical missile threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic zone and that would not undermine strategic parity. I would like to focus your attention on this aspect which conceals the gist of the problem. However, the United States and its allies have refused to move in this direction. Nor would they agree to sign a legally binding document stating that the new missile defence system is not directed against Russia.

A discussion of possible ways of resolving the global missile defence issue with Russia was stopped by Washington. At the same time, the missile defence system’s potential considerably exceeding declared goals continued to be accumulated.

We continue to see the unconstructive activities of the United States and its allies in the area of missile defence as a direct threat to international and regional security and stability. The European strategic situation is now more complicated.

We cannot but note other serious issues linked with missile defence facilities in Europe. For example, Aegis Ashore systems being deployed in Romania and Poland feature launching devices virtually identical to those being used aboard US Navy warships for launching missile interceptors and Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles. We view the deployment of ground-based launchers as running counter to a key provision of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The United States has therefore violated the INF Treaty. We have to state this openly, without any additional diplomatic wording.

Russia has repeatedly noted the danger of negative missile defence developments, but our concerns continue to be ignored. We are reaching the appropriate conclusions from this, including in terms of a military-technical response.

I would like to comment on a statement by William Stevens, Spokesman for the US Embassy in Moscow, made today, 30 minutes before our briefing. He said the US had made three specific proposals to Russia. First, it was suggested to maintain missile defence transparency under Russia-NATO Council exchanges, and Russian experts were officially invited to watch NATO missile defence system tests. Second, the US suggested holding joint Russia-NATO missile defence exercises. Third, the US suggested establishing two joint missile defence centres, including a data exchange centre and a planning support centre. According to Mr Stevens, Russia rejected the proposals and stopped the dialogue unilaterally in 2013. I have said who it was that stopped this dialogue and how.

And now, let’s analyse the comments by Mr Stevens. The devil is, as usual, in the details. It is impossible to deny the facts. Indeed, the statement lists specific aspects of cooperation that were suggested. Let’s brush PR casuistic aside and see what the real situation is like.

In reality, everything is very simple. There is no need to list the names of launchers, to make complicated statements or to provide quotes. The problem is simple: the United States and NATO, which are already seen as twins, have decided to deploy their own missile defence system in Europe. We have repeatedly said that, in our opinion, the stated goals do not meet their public objectives. Proceeding from our concerns and an understanding that this system would drastically upset security and strategic stability on the continent, we suggested finding a joint way out of the current situation. We suggested creating a system that would help alleviate fears, apprehensions and concerns on the part of the United States, NATO and Russia, all the more so when they told us this system was not directed against Russia. To prevent any speculation at any level and by anyone, we suggested doing this in the form of a legally binding document – agreement or treaty. As I see it, this was a very fair, open and honest stance. If you have any concerns not linked with the Russian Federation but which exist on the continent, then let’s build a joint system that takes both parties’ apprehensions into account, and let’s sign a legally binding document, just like honest partners are supposed to.

What did our US partners do? Indeed, they suggested exchanging information and a certain type of partnership and cooperation on this issue but solely in line with their own programme and system. What was the purpose of this? This was needed in order to legalise their own system whose preparation, as we now realise, they did not plan to stop even for a minute. Judging by their logic, information should be shared only in a segment and to an extent allowed by the United States, and cooperation would focus on issues also allowed by only the United States. Is this comprehensive and equitable cooperation? Can this cooperation be seen as a partner-like attitude towards each other? Of course not.

Therefore the choice was simple: Either to choose between unilateral decisions stipulating solely limited cooperation in a segment allowed by one party or to suggest a system that would be built, established and contemplated by Russia and NATO and that would heed real, rather than some far-fetched goals or undisclosed real goals. We favoured the second approach. In this connection, it is very important to understand what is going on, what goals are being pursued and by whom.

From answers to media questions:

Question: US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia that it could sink in a “Syrian morass.” How would you comment?

Maria Zakharova: It’s not a morass but a fire that we are facing there. These are different things. What we are doing is aimed at extinguishing the flames of this fire. But despite all our efforts in this area, they are not being supported entirely by our partners. I’ve mentioned this at the start of my briefing. Many, regrettably, are fanning the fire.

I was asked earlier today, whether Turkey could be doing what it is doing with the militants, its trafficking in of what has been stolen from Syria and their support for terrorist groups without the West’s (US and European) aid? I said we believed that it couldn’t. It’s dishonest and incorrect to say that someone will sink somewhere without doing one’s utmost, among other things, to prevent the Turkish partners from directly harming the situation and the ISSG process.

As you may have noticed, we maintain regular dialogue with our American colleagues. The parties openly say what doesn’t suit the other (Moscow and Washington) and are not afraid to name things they disagree with. But in so doing, we understand that there remains a sphere of public rhetoric where each party holds its own.

I consider this statement as a necessary element of Washington’s “information aggressiveness.” We think that all concerns, if any, should be addressed over the course of our contacts, which are quite numerous and occur at Washington’s initiative. We should do our best to prevent anyone from sinking in Syrian problems. All the necessary mechanisms and opportunities for this exist.

Question: Does the new missile defence system deployed in Romania pose a threat to Russia?

Maria Zakharova: I have spoken in detail about the current situation in Romania.

I can say again, in a few words, that we proceed from such categories as strategic stability, security in Europe, and the strategic balance of forces. We think that though sovereign nations certainly have the right to make alliances, participate in leagues and organisations, and establish military-technical partnerships, they should proceed, above all, from the realisation of how vulnerable strategic stability and the balance of forces and interests in Europe are. It is very easy to upset this balance by removing just one brick from the house foundation, while it takes years of painstaking work to rebuild confidence. We see on many countries’ example how hard it is to restore mutual trust and raise it to the previous level.

Question: Several weeks ago, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned a possible Russian response if Sweden joined NATO. What measures can be implemented?

Maria Zakharova: Unfortunately, you were not attentive enough when you read Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview given to Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper. When asked about a possible retaliatory response, he redirected the question to military experts specialising in these issues. This is probably not your fault. Quite possibly, the problem is that the Swedish publication abridged Foreign Minister’s interview to Dagens Nyheter, to put it mildly. This situation is rather new for us. We realise that printed media are unable to publish the entire text of the interview, but websites exist for this purpose. We cooperate in this way with media outlets almost every week. Many of those present here know that printed media outlets publish abridged interviews, and that the website posts the entire interview. Unfortunately, the website of the Swedish publication also posted an abridged interview. The complete interview is posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.

Question: What does Moscow think about the Russia-NATO dialogue?

Maria Zakharova: As you may be aware, a Russia-NATO Council meeting at the level of permanent representatives was held recently. This meeting was held upon the proposal of NATO, which apparently began to realise something based on current realities. Unfortunately, few people in the West understand this in theory. Clearly, they are hit by a crisis of thought, but based on practical realities NATO has started to realise the absolute futility and hopelessness of having no dialogue on core issues that underlie our contradictions. Of course, there’s no issue about any full-fledged interaction. This was the first attempt. The parties took time to agree upon the format and the topics to make sure that this conversation is a constructive exchange of opinions, rather than a PR campaign providing some PR arguments to a NATO country. Instead, we wanted to talk about the essence of our mutual concerns. Such a meeting did take place.

We are open to dialogue. Our only condition is that the dialogue is mutually respectful and takes into account our mutual interests. We are not satisfied with a situation when only one of two microphones is on.