Russia threatened to retaliate by military means after a deal with the Czech Republic brought the US missile defence system in Europe a step closer.
The threat followed quickly on from the announcement that Condoleezza Rice signed a formal agreement with the Czech Republic to host the radar for the controversial project.
Moscow argues that the missile shield would severely undermine the balance of European security and regards the proposed missile shield based in two former Communist countries as a hostile move.
“We will be forced to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry did not detail what its response might entail.
Dr Rice, the US Secretary of State, hailed the agreement as a step forward for international security.
After 14 months of negotiations, the US is struggling to clinch agreement with its other proposed partner – Poland – where it hopes to locate the interceptor missiles designed to shoot down any incoming rockets.
Washington insists that the system will not be targeted at Russia, but will act as a safeguard for Europe against regimes such as Iran. The plan was endorsed by Nato in April.
“This missile defence agreement is significant as a building block not just for the security of the United States and the Czech Republic, but also for the security of Nato and the security of the international community as a whole,” Dr Rice said. “Ballistic missile proliferation is not an imaginary threat.”
A change of government in Poland last November saw the country introduce a range of demands including US investment in its air defences in return for siting the missiles.
Poland’s tough negotiating position has even led to a threat from the Pentagon to find an alternative site in the Baltic state of Lithuania.
“There are remaining issues, but the United States has made a very generous offer [to the Poles],” said Dr Rice.
A year ago at the G8 in Germany, President Vladimir Putin of Russia surprised the US by suggesting that the radar could be hosted in Azerbaijan so that the technology could be shared.
The signing ceremony seemed to bury that idea. Addressing Russian anxiety about the anti-missile system in what used to be its backyard, Ms Rice added: “We want the system to be transparent to the Russians.”
Mirek Topolanek, the Czech Prime Minister, said that the deal was an example of “our joint desire to protect the free world” and said his country could not afford to miss out as it had done after the Second World War, when it fell under Soviet influence.
“We were in the past in a similar situation and then we failed. We did not accept the Marshall Plan…we should not allow a second error of this kind,” he said.
In Prague, where polls consistently show a majority of Czechs opposed to hosting the US radar, protestors from Greenpeace unrolled a large banner proclaiming “Do not make a target of us.”
After Prague, Dr Rice will visit Bulgaria and Georgia where she will stress US support for Tblisi’s application for Nato membership, another annoyance for Russia.
She will also appeal for calm between Moscow and Tblisi over the separatist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“We have said both Georgia and Russia need to avoid provocative behaviour but frankly some of the things the Russians did over the last couple of months added to tension in the region,” Dr Rice said.
“Georgia is an independent state. It has to be treated like one. I want to make very clear that the US commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity is strong.”
The radar agreement still has to pass through the Czech parliament where the government only has a slim majority.
July 9, 2008
David Charter, Europe Correspondent
Source: The Times