The Russian Federation is crossing swords with President-elect Barack Obama’s administration over the United States’ embryonic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, according to Russian state-run RIA Novosti news service.
Novosti reported Monday that the Russians intend to aim long-range, nuclear-tipped versions of the Iskander-M ground attack missile, as well as R-500 cruise missiles, at the proposed Boeing Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) system.
The GBI system, with 10 missile batteries and a radar system in Europe, is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers $4.5 billion through 2013, according to Pentagon figures. President Bush requested $719.8 million in fiscal 2009 to begin constructing the system in Poland and the Czech Republic, according to Pentagon budget documents.
The Russians’ threat to respond with missile deployment was anything but mild. “The mobile launchers are capable of delivering a sudden strike, including nuclear warheads, at most of Poland even in standard configuration,” according to Russian military commentator Ilya Kramnik.
The Iskander-M system also can launch R-500 cruise missiles. On May 29, 2007, Russia successfully tested the slow, ground-hugging missile for a well-publicized gathering of political heavyweights and official Russian press.
“Potentially, the range of a cruise-missile system can exceed 2,000 kilometers, making it possible to hit targets across Western Europe,” Kramnik said, noting that deploying the R-500 is a violation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty because of its long range.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski sparked a dispute with Obama’s transition team when he claimed that Obama agreed to keep the anti-missile screen in place. Obama aides said he made no such commitment.
"President Kaczynski raised missile defense, but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. His position is as it was throughout the campaign — that he supports deploying a missile-defense system when the technology is proved to be workable,” said Denis McDonough, Obama’s senior foreign policy adviser.
The Bush administration withdrew from the 1972 Russian-American Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June 2002 so it could install the anti-missile shield in Poland. Russia responded by withdrawing from the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty II it had just ratified and began upgrading its strategic and tactical nuclear forces.
Last week, Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev warned the U.S. that putting the GBI system in Poland is unacceptable. To underscore his stance, Medvedev ordered three missile regiments of nuclear-armed ICBMs to remain on operational status instead of standing down as planned.
He also threatened to place three short-range Iskander ground attack missile batteries near Poland. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said later that the new president would follow through only if the United States keeps missile defenses in Europe.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, Obama was lukewarm on the missile deployment issue, while Sen. John McCain supported the missile deployment.
Medvedev first announced plans to deploy the Iskander missiles Nov. 4, the day after Obama won the election.
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