Top Russian officials have issued public warnings about what they see as risks associated with the U.S.'s extensive missile defense system in Europe. The officials, from Russia's political and military elite, said Washington's actions could increase the likelihood of nuclear conflict.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told attendees of the Moscow Conference on International Security on Wednesday that the U.S.'s ballistic missile defense system, which includes a sophisticated network of land, air and sea assets, is "a serious obstacle on the way of consolidation of political stability." Russia and the Western military alliance NATO, which hosts U.S. missile defense installations, have accused each other of aggressively expanding their respective interests in Europe, and both have undergone massive military buildups along Europe's tense borders. Moscow claims the U.S.'s missile defense system could encourage Washington to pursue unilateral action through nuclear force.
"The anti-missile umbrella may increase the illusion of invulnerability and impunity and lead to temptation of taking unilateral steps in the resolution of global and regional problems, including the reduction of threshold of nuclear weapons use," Lavrov said, according to the official TASS Russian News Agency.
Later at the same conference, Russian Lieutenant General Viktor Poznikhir, first deputy chief of the General Staff's Main Operational Department, said computer simulations showed the European leg of the U.S.'s global missile shield was aimed at Russia and China, presenting a serious threat to Moscow's national security. He also said such sprawling weapons systems could be seen as a shield to allow the U.S. to launch an unexpected nuclear attack against Russia.
"The presence of U.S. missile defense bases in Europe, missile defense vessels in seas and oceans close to Russia creates a powerful covert strike component for conducting a sudden nuclear missile strike against the Russian Federation," Poznikhir said, according to Russia's state-run Sputnik News.
In response to Poznikhir's speech, Frants Klintsevich, who is head of the defense and security committee in Moscow's upper house of parliament, took to social media to expand on the lieutenant general's claims. Klintsevich had previously said that the U.K. would "literally be wiped off the face of the Earth" if it attempted to conduct a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and he wrote Thursday that Poznikhir's words were meant to be heard by the international community, the U.S. and Russian citizens, whom Klintsevich said "have nothing to fear" because "the situation is under control."
"At this very moment, the most loyal guarantee for the preservation of peace is our ability in the most severe way to respond to possible aggression," Klintsevich wrote in a Facebook post.
According the U.S.'s most recently completed Nuclear Posture Review, in 2010, "the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies and partners," and such weapons are to be used only "in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, our allies and partners." The U.S. has not adopted a "no-first-use" policy, meaning Washington would be willing to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack if the U.S. or its allies were perceived to be at risk of a nuclear attack. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced the beginning of the next Nuclear Posture Review under the administration of President Donald Trump, who has expressed support for an expanded nuclear force.
Russia, which has also indicated it would seek to increase its nuclear capabilities, also maintains a "launch-under-attack" policy, but extends this doctrine to severe threats by non-nuclear weapon attacks as well. According to the Military Doctrine of Russia, last updated in 2014, Russia reserves "the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy."
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