Critics at home and abroad are accusing President Obama of knuckling under to Russia even before he has announced his plans to reconfigure missile defense plans in Europe. And to be sure, Russia was happy to be rid of former President George W. Bush’s planned missile shield.
But does the new missile defense architecture outlined by Mr. Obama actually satisfy Russian objections? That remains a more complicated question.
The Bush plan to counter Iranian missiles with a sophisticated radar facility in the Czech Republic and 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland arguably never posed any real threat to Russia’s nuclear arsenal, which even in its shrunken post-cold war state could easily overwhelm such a system.
The more specific, technical Russian grievances against the missile defense plan involved not so much the system Mr. Bush designed but its potential down the road. Russian officials acknowledged that the system could not thwart its hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles. But they argued that 10 interceptors could be eventually expanded to 100 or more. And they contended that the interceptors could be fitted with warheads and turned into offensive weapons close to their territory.
The cancellation of the radar in the Czech Republic could be seen as the most satisfying aspect of the new plan from the Russian perspective because it will keep the Americans from peering deeply into their territory. And the SM-3s, at least as currently designed, are not capable of taking out the intercontinental missiles that Russia has, The New York Times reports.
Polish and Czech right-wingers accused Washington of caving into Russia after it dropped plans for a missile shield on their soil, but the move is not expected to harm the governments in Warsaw and Prague.
In the meantime, Polish President Lech Kaczynski, a conservative supporter of the shield, said his government shared blame for the demise of the U.S. project, but analysts say the economy is a far bigger priority than missile defense for Polish and Czech voters.
"Betrayal! The USA has sold us to the Russians and stabbed us in the back," said the Polish tabloid Fakt.
Czech daily Lidowe Noviny took a similar line. "Obama gave in to the Kremlin," it said, Reuters reports.
It was also reported, Russia will not deploy new missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave now that the United States has dropped plans to build an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia's envoy to NATO said on Friday.
Dmitry Rogozin also welcomed a proposal from NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen for more cooperation with Russia on anti-missile systems.
"It was very positive, very constructive and we have to analyze together all the sec-gen's proposals for the new beginning of NATO-Russia cooperation," Rogozin told a news conference, Reuters reports