NATO bases are like thorns in Putin’s eyes

The Redzikowo base in Poland is described by the US as a shield to help Europe against missile attacks, but to Putin, it is an expression of NATO’s eastward strategy.

Every morning walking his dog, Polish journalist Tomasz Czescik is startled by the sound of loudspeakers coming from inside the military base located in the middle of the forest near his house. Loudspeakers played the American anthem from across the barbed wire fence with “Stay Away” signs in Polish, English, German and Russian.

“I don’t know anyone who’s ever been in there,” said Czescik, pointing over the fence toward a cluster of buildings in the distance.

The barbed wire fence, guarded by Polish soldiers, is the perimeter outside a highly sensitive NATO military facility, due to open this year, which Washington insists will help protect Europe. and the United States from the threat of ballistic missile attack.

Barbed wire fence surrounds the US military base in the village of Redzikowo, northern Poland.  Photo: NY Times.

Barbed wire fence surrounds a NATO military base in the village of Redzikowo, northern Poland. Photo: NY Times.

But for Russian President Vladimir Putin, this military base in the northern Polish village of Redzikowo and another in Romania are like thorns in the eye, proof of the threat posed by an expansionist effort. east of NATO.

The Pentagon describes the two bases as purely defensive and unrelated to Russia, but the Kremlin says they could be used to shoot down Russian missiles or launch cruise missiles that have the capability to attack. raid Moscow.

Moscow on February 16 announced the withdrawal of more troops from Ukraine’s border, and Kiev has signaled that it is ready to give up its ambition to join NATO, one of the most tense points for the current Ukraine crisis.

But tensions rose again later when a US official accused Russia of reducing its military presence on Ukraine’s border as “untrue” and that there was new evidence that Moscow was still rallying. enough force to launch an attack at any time.

NATO’s reduction of its military presence in Eastern and Central Europe is one of the security proposals that President Putin demands the West must respond to to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, which Washington and European leaders have bluntly rejected. deny.

Putin has expressed concern about the US missile system near the Russian border since the base in Romania came into operation in 2016. That concern was further compounded when Poland built a new missile base in the village of Redzikowo. , only about 160 km from the Russian overseas territory of Kaliningrad and nearly 1,300 km from Moscow.

Location of the village of Redzikowo (red dot), about 160 km from the Russian territory of Kaliningrad.  Graphics: Google Maps.

Location of the village of Redzikowo (red dot), about 160 km from the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. Graphics: Google Maps.

“Do we deploy missiles near the US border? No. It was the United States that brought missiles to our doorstep,” Putin said at his annual press conference in December 2021.

The Redzikowo base is where the US deploys the Aegis Ashore defense system, with modern radars capable of detecting and tracking enemy missiles and guiding interceptors to defeat them in the sky. It is also equipped with MK 41 missile launchers, which Russia fears could easily fire attack cruise missiles like the Tomahawk.

When they learned that they were living in a place that could be on Russia’s “priority target” list, many Redzikowo villagers felt bewildered.

Ryszard Kwiatkowski, a civil engineer, said that a customer who ordered an apartment in a new building his company is building recently called to cancel fearing that Russia might attack the missile defense base in Redzikowo and cause property values ​​to fall.

No one really thought that could happen, because it would put Russia in direct conflict with NATO, the military alliance that has joined Poland since 1999. But the hope is for a united and peaceful Europe. Peace is slowly fading, as Russia deploys more than 100,000 troops to its border near Ukraine, and the US also deploys thousands of additional troops to Poland.

According to Kwiatkowski, who joined protests against the US base at Redzikowo when the project was announced in 2016, Russia destabilized by exaggerating the threat posed by NATO. However, he added that both sides have created “a self-powered fear machine” fueled by the vague shadow of what the other is doing.

Thomas Graham, director for Russia on the US National Security Council under President George W. Bush, said Moscow had never believed Washington’s assurances that its missile defense system was only intended for into Iran, not Russia. Therefore, they are trying to find a way to change through various means, including a show of military power.

“The current crisis is not just about Ukraine,” Graham said. “Ukraine is a fulcrum, but it also involves Poland, Romania and the Baltic states. The Russians believe it’s time to change the order. post-Cold War Europe in their favor”.

In a meeting with President Putin earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that Moscow wanted to see “fundamental changes in European security”, far-reaching changes that go beyond Ukraine, including: including the withdrawal of NATO military forces stationed in Eastern Europe, limiting the deployment of offensive weapons and intermediate-range missiles.

Tomasz Smura, a senior member of the Casimir Pulaski Foundation, a research group in Warsaw, Poland, said “this is a very important issue for Russia”. But closing the Redzikowo base, according to Russia’s wishes, is a “red line” that the US and Poland will not cross.

Still, in response to a list of Russian security requirements announced in December 2021, NATO recently offered to discuss a “transparency mechanism” in the hope of alleviating Moscow’s concerns about the bases. missile bases in Poland and Romania.

But Russia wants more than that.

Russia has long viewed America’s missile defense capabilities as a threat to it. The ability of the United States to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles undermines the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. According to this doctrine, the two largest nuclear powers should never be in danger of nuclear war, as that would lead to a scenario where both would be annihilated.

During the Cold War, Russia and the United States both worked to develop anti-missile defense systems, but agreed to abandon their missile shield program in 1972 to avoid hurting each other and help build peace.

That agreement worked for nearly 30 years. However, in December 2001, then-US President George W. Bush angered his Russian counterpart Putin, then in his second year in office, by withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. and directed the Pentagon to build a system to deter potential threats from Iranian missiles.

The US withdrawal from the treaty that has been the foundation of superpower relations for many decades has since been repeatedly cited by the Kremlin as the beginning of a US-Russian disagreement, because President Putin believes that Russia’s interests are in danger. trampled.

“We have been trying for a long time to convince our partners not to do it,” Putin said this month at the Kremlin. “However, the US did what it did, withdrew from the treaty. Now, ballistic missile launchers have been deployed in Romania and are being set up in Poland.”

He stressed that if Ukraine moves closer to NATO, “they will become full of Western weapons. Modern offensive weapons will be deployed on their territory like in Poland or Romania.”

The Aegis Ashore system in Romania has been operating for the past five years without incident, but Russia considers the Polish missile defense base to be a more serious threat.

US troops deployed to Poland on February 11.  Photo: US National Guard.

US troops deployed to Poland on February 11. Photo: US National Guard.

The Aegis Ashore weapons system, which was installed last summer at the facility, is expected to begin operations this year, Rear Admiral Tom Druggan, program director, said in November 2021. “It certainly doesn’t focus on threats from Russia, despite what they say,” he asserted.

However, assurances from the US that only Iran would have to worry about its missile defenses were sabotaged under the Trump administration when he declared they would “detect and destroy any any missile launched against the United States anywhere, at any time.”

Washington had to find a way to convince Putin that its two missile defense bases in Eastern Europe were incapable of striking targets in Russia.

In response to complaints from Moscow, last month, NATO declared that interceptor missiles at the sites of deployment of the Aegis Ashore system “cannot undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent” and “cannot be used.” for offensive purposes”. They further note that the interceptors do not contain explosives and cannot hit ground targets, but only objects in the air.

“In addition, those sites lack the software, hardware and infrastructure necessary to launch offensive missiles,” NATO said.

However, some independent experts believe that the MK 41 launchers at bases in Poland and Romania can fire not only interceptors, but also attack cruise missiles.

“Without direct testing, there is no way to determine whether Tomahawk-specific hardware and software has been installed at these sites,” said Matt Korda, an analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. Aegis Ashore deployment site in Europe or not.

Until now, only NATO troops or their control units have been allowed to get close to the launch pad.

Beata Jurys, the village head of Redzikowo, said she had never been inside the facility, which was built on the site of a former Polish airbase and a closed civilian airport.

Jurys fears a dispute between Moscow and Washington over the base will make the village a potential target if war breaks out. “If something happens, unfortunately, we’ll be the first to know,” she said.

See more:

– 5 questions about the Ukraine crisis

– Four months of Russia – Ukraine crisis boiling

– Why does Russia not mobilize troops with Ukraine?

What does the US want in the Ukraine crisis?

Vu Hoang (Follow NY Times)

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