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US to switch on European missile shield

US to switch on European missile shield Political and military events

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US to switch on European missile shield

The United States’ European missile defence shield is to go live almost a decade after Washington proposed protecting NATO from Iranian rockets and despite Russian warnings that the West is threatening the peace in central Europe.

Amid high Russia-West tension, US and NATO officials will on Thursday declare operational the shield at a remote air base in Deveselu, Romania, after years of planning, billions of dollars in investment and failed attempts to assuage Russian concerns that the shield could be used against Moscow.

“We now have the capability to protect NATO in Europe,” said Robert Bell, a NATO-based envoy of US Defence Secretary Ash Carter.

“The Iranians are increasing their capabilities and we have to be ahead of that. The system is not aimed against Russia,” he told reporters, adding that the system will soon be handed over to NATO command.

The United States will also start construction on a second site in Poland on Friday that is due to be ready in 2018, giving NATO a permanent, round-the-clock shield in addition to radars and ships already in the Mediterranean.

Russia is incensed at such of show of force by its Cold War rival in formerly communist-ruled eastern Europe where it once held sway.

Moscow says the US-led alliance is trying to encircle it close to the strategically important Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet and where NATO is also considering increasing patrols.

The foreign ministry in Moscow, in comments on Russian news agencies, said Iran’s missile program posed no threat to NATO states in Europe and called the US move a mistake and a treaty violation that directly affected Russia’s national security.

The readying of the shield also comes as NATO prepares a new deterrent in Poland and the Baltics, following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

In response, Russia is reinforcing its western and southern flanks with three new divisions.

Despite US assurances, the Kremlin says the missile shield’s real aim is to neutralise Moscow’s nuclear arsenal long enough for the United States to make a first strike on Russia in the event of war.

The shield relies on radars to detect a ballistic missile launch into space.

Tracking sensors then measure the rocket’s trajectory and intercept and destroy it in space, before it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere.

The interceptors can be fired from ships or ground sites.

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