Gates chides Medvedev for 'misguided' remarks on missiles
Says defensive shield by US nothing to fear
TALLINN, Estonia - US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates scolded Russia's president yesterday for threatening to move short-range missiles to its border with Poland. Gates said the remarks were "unnecessary and misguided," particularly since they were made only hours after the election of Barack Obama.
Angered by US progress at securing agreements to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that the Kremlin would move missiles into the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad if the United States proceeded.
The remarks were "hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves," Gates said. "Russia has nothing to fear from a defensive missile shield or, for that matter, the presence of democratic nations on its periphery."
Gates made the comments at a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia's capital, after a meeting of NATO defense ministers, who discussed Ukraine and Georgia's hopes of joining the alliance.
The United States has said the missile defense system, which would include tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, is aimed at knocking down long-range missiles launched toward Western Europe or the United States from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East. The Kremlin has accused the United States of building the bases for eventual use against Russian missiles.
Gates said that differences over the missile defense system were between the United States and Russia, and that European countries should not be drawn into the dispute.
"Quite frankly, I'm not clear what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad," Gates said. "The only real emerging threat on Russia's periphery is in Iran, and I don't think the Iskander missile has the range to get there from Kaliningrad."
The Western defense ministers gathered in Tallinn to discuss the membership bid of the two former Soviet republics. But NATO and US officials acknowledged that the Bush administration's long-held desire to begin a formal accession process next month for Ukraine and Georgia was increasingly unlikely.
Gates and other leaders of NATO countries went so far as to suggest that the alliance might scrap the process - known as the membership action plan, or MAP - in order to break a deadlock that has pitted the United States against some of its closest allies in Europe, particularly Germany.
NATO's failure to extend the membership plan next month would be a politically sensitive setback, particularly after Russia's invasion of Georgia, which prompted an intensified round of debates in NATO capitals about whether the West was needlessly provoking the Kremlin.