Today, the US declared the Aegis Ashore air defense system in Romania to be officially operational. The Aegis Ashore component based at Deveselu air base in Romania is part of a missile defense umbrella being built to counter the growing threat posed to European territory by ballistic missiles fired from nations such as Iran. The fear is that Iran will eventually possess missiles able to reach population centers in Europe and this missile defense system is a safeguard against the possibility of a future attack. Although the system was designed and built with rogue nations like Iran in mind, its appearance in Eastern Europe has long been a bone of contention between the US and Russia. Now, with tensions in the region rising, one has to wonder how Moscow will respond to the reality of an operational missile defense system on its front porch.
NATO encroachment has long been a concern of Russia’s. The alliance has been joined by many former Warsaw Pact nations, as well as the Baltic States, which were once Soviet domain. Vladimir Putin has used the expansion of NATO as a rallying cry for Russia’s people to rally around. He can easily point to a missile defense system placed in Eastern Europe as a threat to Russia. There is already a healthy amount of concern in Russia that this system will be used to neutralize Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The US has stated many times that this is not the case and Aegis Ashore will not be used against future Russian missile threats.
There is speculation that Russia will point to the US move as justification to negate the START treaty. Given the current level of tension, this is not out of the question. Putin has a host of other measures he could take instead from diplomatic protests to military posturing and action.
While the missile defense system in Romania is a definitive measure for the security of Europe, it is also viewed by Moscow as a dagger aimed at the heart of Russia.