MOSCOW. (Nikita Petrov exclusively for RIA Novosti) - The results of the Bucharest NATO summit, the NATO-Russia Council meetings, and talks between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Sochi have been summed up in what has now become a standard comment - the NATO summit made up for suspending the Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and Georgia with the full support for the deployment of an American missile shield in Europe.
However, a communique of the NATO summit focuses mainly on the formation of a European missile defense system with the participation of the United States, NATO and Russia rather than on the deployment of the U.S. strategic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. But this is not at all one and the same thing.
The European theater missile defense system is completely different from the U.S. strategic missile shield. The former is designed against ballistic missiles with medium and shorter ranges of 500 km to 5,500 km with speeds of less than five kilometers per second, whereas the latter is meant for protection against strategic missiles, with a range of more than 5,500 km whose warheads develop a speed of more than 5 km- 7 km per second, especially at the final stage.
Russian experts are taking an active part in the development of the European missile defense system in the NATO-Russia Council for a reason. Just like the United States, Russia does not have medium and shorter-range missiles; they have been scrapped, and their production lines destroyed under the Treaty on Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles in 1991.
Moreover, ballistic missiles may be used against southern European states ( Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and even Italy and France). Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, from Syria to Libya, possess missiles similar to the Soviet Scud-Cs and Scud-Ds, which can destroy targets at a distance of 300 km- 600 km, their own missile versions of the same type, or missiles bought from North Korea, with a range of 1,000 km or more. Iran also has ballistic missiles. Who knows what will happen in the future? It is sensible to protect Europe against this threat.
On a NATO-Russia Council committee, Russian military experts and their colleagues from Brussels had several consultations, and even conducted a number of computer command post exercises to this effect. One of them was held in the Defense Ministry's Fourth Research Institute in Bolshevo near Moscow, which is known to the military world as one of the major think tanks of nuclear retaliation scenarios against potential aggressors. Similar exercises were conducted at an American military base in Germany. Their results were not published, but all participants in the virtual maneuvers were pleased. There are plans to put these computer achievements on a legal and material foundation, and eventually to build a missile defense system in Europe.
There are some political and economic obstacles on this road. NATO members cannot agree what companies should supply the hardware - radars for reconnaissance, detection, and tracking, and for guidance of air defense systems. Those in charge of the project cannot decide what air defense systems they should buy for a European missile defense shield, but they insist that they should be American rather than Russian. Not everyone in NATO agrees with this approach. For instance, the Greek air defense and missile defense systems are based on Russian air defense systems - Buk-M1, Tor-MI, and C-300PMU. They appear to be very reliable and Athens does not see why it should pay for hardware that it does not find completely suitable.
But let's return to U.S. missile defense plans for Poland, and the Czech Republic. They have no direct link to NATO. Moreover, at the final news conference on the recent summit, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said bluntly that the issue of a third American positioning region in Europe is a subject of discussion between Washington and Moscow. The sides have not changed their opinions on this issue after George W. Bush visited Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
Moscow has explained more than once why it is so critical of U.S. intentions to station its missile interceptors (GBI) in Poland, and high-frequency radar in the Czech Republic. It believes that American GBIs are designed not to protect against Iran, which is not capable of launching missiles against Europe, but to lower the potential of Russia's nuclear deterrent in its European part. Although in Sochi Putin expressed cautious optimism about the possibility of achieving final agreements on the U.S. missile defense system, it is not yet clear on what basis they may be reached.
NATO's much-publicized idea of combining the American strategic missile defense system with the European theater missile defense is rather questionable. Russian experts believe that this task is next to impossible. These systems work in different environments - the former reaches beyond the atmosphere, while the latter deals with missiles flying in the air at relatively low speeds. Intercontinental missiles and their warheads often fly at supersonic speeds, and require a different control mechanism.
Moreover, destruction of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) that are only used on strategic missiles, the dummy targets that they release in overcoming the ABM system, and other counter missile defense measures require very expensive military equipment. Combining them in a single system is a big question.
But there is no question that Russia, the United States, and NATO can cooperate in creating a European theater missile defense with due respect for the national and economic interests of each party, and the intellectual rights of military designers. Moscow is ready to such cooperation.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend.