MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday it was worried about U.S. talks on the use of Ukrainian radar stations as part of a revised missile defense shield, a step that could hinder efforts to reset ties between the two Cold War foes.
Russia, which is extremely sensitive to any hint of U.S. cooperation with former Soviet republics, initially welcomed President Barack Obama’s scrapping of Bush-era plans for a missile defense system in central Europe.
But Moscow has been irked by a U.S. statement that countries like Ukraine could contribute early warning information as part of the revised shield plan and reports that talks between the U.S. and Ukraine on the issue had already begun.
“We feel concerned,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by RIA news agency as saying when asked about the possible use of Ukrainian radars by the United States.
“To say we are encouraged about the information we are getting about contacts on this subject would be, to put it mildly, an exaggeration,” Itar-Tass quoted Ryabkov as saying.
The comments indicate a further setback in efforts to reset ties between the two Cold War foes after rows in recent years over the 2008 war in Georgia, NATO enlargement toward Russia’s borders and missile defense.
Since Obama’s revision of the Bush-era missile plans, Moscow has said the system now being proposed leaves many questions unanswered and the Kremlin has refused to publicly support Washington’s stance on Iran.
The administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush had planned to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic to repel potential attacks from Iran.
The plans were deeply opposed by Moscow as Russian generals said the system could have been used to neutralize Russia’s vast nuclear deterrent. They brushed aside U.S. assurances that the plans were not aimed at Russia.
Under Obama’s new plans, sea and land-based missile interceptors would be deployed in Europe and the system would not require one large fixed radar center in Europe.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oleh Shamshur, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that talks with Washington on the use of radar stations had already begun.
“This issue is in the process of working discussions. It is still at a beginning stage,” Interfax cited Shamshur as saying. He added that previous Ukrainian leaders had backed this idea.
Shamshur suggested Russia had missed its chance to use information from Ukrainian radars.
“We are also talking about the question of using our defense radars across Ukraine’s territory, which, as you all know, Russia has declined to use,” Shamshur was quoted as saying.
Shamshur’s comments appeared to relate to possible use by Washington of two Soviet-era early alert stations at Mukachevo in western Ukraine and one near the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol. Ukraine’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
President Viktor Yushchenko was in Brussels on Thursday and his office had no immediate comment on Shamshur’s remarks.
But on October 12 Yushchenko said at a meeting of Commonwealth of Independent States leaders in Moldova that Ukraine was ready to contribute these two facilities to a collective world and European security system.
Reporting by Conor Sweeney and Richard Balmforth; editing by Andrew Roche