The Russian government raised objections Thursday after the U.S. military began constructing and testing in Romania a missile-defense system that the Kremlin contends has elements in direct violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The first parts of the new system were delivered Tuesday to Deveselu, a small town on Romania's border with Bulgaria, although the defensive weapon is not expected to be operational until late 2016, according to Interfax, a Moscow-based news agency.
"We have taken notice that the Aegis Ashore system deployed in the said area [in Romania] includes MK-41 multifunctional launching systems, which U.S. Navy vessels use to launch both interceptors and intermediate-range Tomahawk guided missiles," Russian Foreign Ministry representative Maria Zakharova said at a news briefing, thus indicating Russia's belief the Aegis system would be capable of being employed for both offensive and defensive purposes. "This gives us reasons to view their appearance onshore as a direct violation by the U.S. of the INF Treaty provisions.
The INF Treaty was signed by the Soviet Union and the U.S. in 1987. It prohibits nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges, defined as between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (between 300 and 3,400 miles). The Aegis system does not officially fall into that category when used to defend against ballistic missiles. If fitted with the MK-41 launching capability suggested by Moscow, however, it would enable the launching of intermediate-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
The deployment of the system is designed to act as a defensive shield for NATO, its allies and U.S. forces deployed in the region against emerging ballistic-missile threats in the Middle East, according to a report Wednesday by IHS Jane's 360, a provider of military data.
"Sailors will train and conduct exercises until they and the systems are fully certified, similar to conducting sea trials with a new ship," said Cmdr. Pam Rawe, public-affairs officer for U.S. 6th Fleet. "By summer 2016, Aegis Ashore in Deveselu is scheduled to be ready for a NATO initial operational capability declaration."