— As American and allied officials celebrated the opening of a long-awaited missile defense system in Europe
with a ribbon cutting and a band, the reaction in Russia
on Thursday suggested the system had raised the risks of a nuclear war.
Russian officials reiterated their position that the American-built system imperiled Russia’s security. But the public discussion in Russia was darker, including online commentary of how a nuclear confrontation might play out in Europe, and the prospect that Romania
, the system’s host, might be reduced to “smoking ruins.”
“We have been saying right from when this story started that our experts are convinced that the deployment of the ABM system poses a certain threat to the Russian Federation,” the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters in a conference call.
“Measures are being taken to ensure the necessary level of security for Russia,” he said. “The president himself, let me remind you, has repeatedly asked who the system will work against.”
The United States has asserted that the anti-ballistic missile system would protect only against “rogue” states, particularly Iran, and provide no protection for either Europe or the United States
from Russia’s far larger arsenal of nuclear missiles. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization site will be controlled by an American officer.
The system, called Aegis Ashore, was essentially transferred from a seaborne launchpad onto land in Romania, at the Deveselu air base. The United States on Friday planned to break ground on a second site, in Poland, that should be completed in 2018. But a deputy United States defense secretary, Robert Work, reiterated Thursday there are “no plans at all” to strengthen this missile umbrella to protect against Russia.
In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said Russian defense experts consider the site a threat.
“We still view the destructive actions of the United States and its allies in the area of missile defense as a direct threat to global and regional security,” Ms. Zakharova said.
She said that the Aegis Ashore launchpad was “practically identical” to a system used aboard Aegis warships that is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.
While the United States says it has no Tomahawk missiles at the site in Romania, Russian officials say the launchpad violates a 1987 treaty intended to take the superpowers off their hair-trigger nuclear alert, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, by banning land-based cruise and medium-range missiles with a range from 300 to 3,400 miles.
The short flight time of these missiles diminished to mere minutes the window Soviet leaders would have had after a warning to decide whether to launch a second strike, raising the risks of mishaps. Any redeployment of nuclear-capable missiles in Central Europe would roll the clock back to this nerve-racking 1980s status quo.
“We have to announce this openly, without any additional diplomatic formulations,” Ms. Zakharova said of the Russian assertion the site violates the intermediate-range missile ban. “We are talking about violation of this treaty.”
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has warned that an American antimissile deployment in Eastern Europe could prompt Russia to withdraw from the treaty. The United States last year accused Russia of violating the treaty by failing to declare the true range of two missile types.
Last fall, Russian security officials appeared to drop hints of another military response to the missile defense system — a nuclear-armed drone submarine. Russia, this leak appeared to say, has options.
During a high-level security meeting, a television camera zoomed in on an open binder showing the weapon’s design, ostensibly by accident.
The drone, according to easily decipherable text accompanying the design drawing, would be capable of carrying a large nuclear device into coastal waters and detonating it, touching off a radioactive tsunami to flood and contaminate seaside cities.
The submarine would “defeat important economic objects of an enemy in coastal zones, bringing guaranteed and unacceptable losses on the country’s territory by forming a wide area of radioactive contamination incompatible with conducting military, economic or any other activities there for a long period of time,” it said.
A Russian commentator, Konstantin Bogdanov, wrote on Lenta.ru, a news portal, that the antimissile sites in Eastern Europe might even accelerate the slippery slope to nuclear war in a crisis.
They would inevitably become priority targets in the event of nuclear war, possibly even targets for preventive strikes. Countries like Romania that host American antimissile systems might be the only casualties, he wrote, whereas the United States would then reconcile with Russia “over the smoking ruins of the East European elements of the missile defense system.”