A missile is launched from the Aegis combat system-equipped USS Decatur during a Missile Defense Agency ballistic missile flight test in the Pacific Ocean in 2007. The missiles are at the heart of a defense strategy in Europe the United States says is intended to deter potential threats from Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday warned Romania and Poland against participating in the strategy or face a military response from Moscow. File Photo by U.S. NavyUPI | License Photo
ATHENS, Greece, May 27 (UPI) -- For the first time this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a country of the European Union, and used the occasion to warn two formerly Soviet-occupied nations against siding with the United States in a series of new missile defense deployments.
Putin arrived in Greece on Friday to meet with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, mainly to discuss energy and transportation investments between the two nations. But during a news conference, the Russian president took the opportunity to warn Romania and Poland that their decisions to open NATO bases puts them at risk.
Romania opened a defense base in Deveselu this month that houses U.S. Aegis missiles, and Poland plans to do the same in the near future.
"If yesterday people simply did not know what it means to be in the crosshairs in those areas of Romania, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security," Putin said. "And it will be the same with Poland."
Putin is weary of the purpose of the bases, which U.S. officials say is to guard its European allies against a potential threat from Iran. Moscow, though, believes the bases threaten Russia.
"At the moment, the interceptor missiles installed have a range of 500 kilometers [310 miles], soon this will go up to 1000 kilometers [621 miles], and worse than that, they can be re-armed with 2400 kilometer-range [1,491 mile] offensive missiles even today, and it can be done by simply switching the software, so that even the Romanians themselves won't know," Putin continued.
The warning is the strongest rhetoric yet from Putin regarding the movements and safeguards undertaken by NATO in recent years to set up a strategic defense grid.
The Russian military has made very public demonstrations of its capabilities in recent years -- in Ukraine, particularly Crimea, and to support Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.
"We have the capability to respond. The whole world saw what our medium-range sea-based missiles are capable of [in Syria]," Putin added. "And our ground-based Iskander missiles have also proven themselves as superb."
Putin criticized the United States in his remarks, saying Washington and its allies have ignored warnings of the potential consequences of installing weapons systems in Eastern Europe.
The Russian leader has been suspicious of the officially stated purposes of the missile defense shield, which was developed under former President George W. Bush's administration, and has made it known that Moscow doesn't intend to stand idly by while an arsenal of war weapons are placed on his proverbial doorstep.
"This cannot have any other impact, because the United States have at one point unilaterally withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and have, in essence, begun undermining the fundamentals of international security," Putin said.
In fact, the entire ordeal is having a major influence in the region -- particularly due to a prominent war games exercise scheduled for July. Friday, Russian news agency Sputnik published a story under the headline, "Are NATO's Massive War Games on Russia's Border a Pretext to World War III?"
If that concern sounds familiar, it's because Russia has subscribed to that belief before. In 1983, Soviet leaders were highly suspicious of a similar scenario -- that NATO was using a war games exercise, called Able Archer, as a ruse to hide a premeditated preemptive nuclear strike on Moscow.
Perhaps the biggest reason Putin is suspicious: last year's landmark nuclear accord between Iran and Western powers that effectively shut down Tehran's nuclear program.
"NATO fend us off with vague statements that this is no threat to Russia ... That the whole project began as a preventive measure against Iran's nuclear program. Where is that program now? It doesn't exist," Putin said, referring to the agreement. "We have been saying since the early 2000s that we will have to react somehow to your moves to undermine international security.
"No one is listening to us."