WASHINGTON, D.C.— Romania and the United States have inaugurated a military site that will be part of the NATO missile defense system that protects Europe from attack. Russia has vigorously opposed having a U.S. missile system so close to its borders, and a Russian analyst told VOA that Moscow is sure to retaliate.
The land-based missile defense facility is located in a former air base near Deveselu village, 180 kilometers east of Romania's capital, Bucharest. U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller attended the groundbreaking ceremony there on Monday.
"When phase two is completed here in the 2015 time frame, Europe will be safer, U.S. forces will be better protected, Romania will be safer, and the NATO alliance will be stronger," said Miller.
Romanian President Traian Basescu also attended the ceremony.
"Romania enters the club of NATO member states that will ensure one of the most perfect solutions to protect European and American citizens against the real threat represented by an attack with ballistic missiles," said Basescu.
U.S. defense plans for Europe call for facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland, with missile defense radar deployed in Turkey. U.S. and NATO officials have said the system is intended strictly for protection of Europe from possible attacks by Iran or North Korea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has vigorously opposed the plan over the years, saying it undermines Russia's deterrence capabilities.
"We think that there is no reason for placing an anti-missile system in Europe. And our military experts believe that this system will cover the territory of the Russian Federation up to the Urals," said Putin.
NATO defense plans have been modified several times to allay Russia's concerns, but the United States has rejected Moscow's demands for legal guarantees that U.S defense facilities in Europe would not target Russia's nuclear deterrence forces.
Russia analyst Peter Eltsov told VOA that most people in Russia think the U.S. missile system is aimed exclusively against their country.
"The majority of Russian people today are also, I think, convinced that this is not against Iran or this is not against North Korea because it's on the Russian border. So many people in Russia actually will support some kind of response on the side of Putin and his government," said Eltsov.
Officials in Moscow have said they will respond very "sharply" to any U.S. deployment near Russia's borders or shores. Eltsov says verbal rebukes are likely to be followed by political and military moves.
"They may try to increase military presence in Kaliningrad, which is closest to Europe. They may also try to do something with southern American countries which are not friendly to the U.S. government -- some joint military effort. And of course, it may have some effect on the Russian policy in Syria - more support for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, and more support for any anti-American regimes in the world," explained Eltsov.
The development of the U.S. and NATO anti-ballistic defense system is planned in four phases, with the last one slated for completion in the 2020 time frame.