Monday, February 8, 2010

Grains of truth

Voices are starting to be raised against the emplacement of a US missile defence system in Romania.  The most prominent voice being heard in Moldova on this issue is that of Vladimir Voronin.  The basic gist of his comments is that the missile system could transform Moldova into a front line of a new cold war between Russia and the West.  Also, he implies that tacit acceptance of the system by the AIE government undermines Moldova's neutrality and could lead Russia to take unilateral steps in Transnistria.

The first thing that needs to be stated about the missile system is that perceived Russian concerns are massively overblown.  First of all this is a defensive system - it has no ability to attack, only to knock out incoming missiles from Iran, Al Qaeda or wherever.  It is no direct threat to Russia.

The Russians counter that the system upsets the strategic balance between herself and NATO; NATO countries would be free to attack Russia with long-range nuclear weapons because they would be safe from Russian retaliation.  This too is nonsense; the system in its Polish incarnation would have been able to knock out only around ten missiles or so (c.f. a Russian nuclear arsenal of around 10,000).

Furthermore, due to its geography and design, the Romanian system is evidently designed to counter short-medium range missiles originating in the Middle East.  It is incapable of intercepting Russian missiles aimed at the US and flying over the polar region.

Simply put, Russian claims that the system is directed against them or somehow alters the balance of power in Europe hold very little water.

What is interesting about Voronin's comments however, is that he doesn't mention what the system can or can't do.  He doesn't discuss the military implications as I have just done above.  He simply makes an assumption that the system will annoy Russia and then extrapolates to some not unreasonable conclusions, all of which strengthen his position with his Rusophone / Communist electorate.

It is very possible that Russia will pretend that the new system somehow compromises its security and kick up a big song and dance about it.  It is very possible that the silence of Moldova's AIE government will be viewed negatively in Moscow.  It is very possible that the US weapons-defence system could be used by Russia as an excuse to strengthen its military position in Transnistria.

Voronin's motivation for his commentary is deplorable as usual.  His continuing demonisation of Romania, his distaste for all things western (including democracy and human rights) and his need to consolidate the rusophone vote are the drivers for his remarks.

The subject matter of his commentary has a lot more substance, however.  Should Russia choose to use the missile shield as an excuse for ramping up regional tensions, Voronin's prophesies may (unfortunately) come to pass.

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