“This represents a significant increase in the capability to defend European allies against ballistic missiles from outside the Euro-Atlantic area,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a ceremony at the missile defense site in Deveselu, a former air base some 200 km southwest of Bucharest.

download (2)“The threat to NATO allies from ballistic missiles from outside the Euro-Atlantic area is real,” said the NATO chief. “Missile defense is essential to our common security.”

The Deveselu base is the first to feature the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system, a land-based version of the sophisticated radar-tracking system installed on U.S. warships since 2004.

The anti-missile base is equipped with a SPY-1 radar system and a vertical-launch missile system armed with long-range SM-3 missiles.

Construction began in 2013, and the system’s components became operational in December 2015. Its integration into NATO’s ballistic missile defense capability is proceeding as scheduled, as the deadline is related to a NATO summit in July in Warsaw.

The new system provides “both a quantitative and qualitative increase in NATO’s ballistic missile defense capability and capacity and strengthens NATO defensive capabilities,” visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said.

Meanwhile, Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos said the facility in his country expands the area covered by allied countries in Southern and Central Europe.

It will significantly reduce the risk of potential attacks from ballistic missiles from outside the Euro-Atlantic space, he said.

In addition to emphasizing the importance of the system for NATO’s defense, all the speakers at the ceremony insisted that the site in Deveselu is not directed against Russia, saying it will not have the capability to undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent.

Yet, Moscow sees the missile defense site as a threat.

On Thursday, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, vowed to take defensive measures for “securing the necessary level of security in Russia.”

“From the very beginning of this whole story, we have said that according to the opinion of our experts, the deployment of this missile system represents a threat to Russia’s security,” Peskov was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying.

The defensive nature of the system is also under question. The SPY-1 long-range radar, part of the Aegis antimissile system, can be used to spy on missile tests and aircraft in Russian airspace, providing the United States with additional intelligence.

Mikhail Ulyanov, a senior official of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday that the missile defense system in Deveselu is not only aimed at neutralizing Russia’s offensive capability.

He noted that as its vertical launching system could also be re-equipped with offensive cruise missiles, the Romanian site could easily and secretly be converted into a cruise missile base close to the Russian border.

Earlier this month, Andrei Kelin, another senior official from the Russian Foreign Ministry, described the deployment of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system as “a step toward the military and political containment of Russia.”

The system could “only worsen” the already tense relations between Russia and NATO, he said. Endi

Source; Xinhua

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