President Putin has warned the US that were it to go ahead in deploying a new anti-missile network across Europe, Russia would be urged to aim its own nuclear missiles at European cities. Presumably this is really a warning to Europe not to permit the US to install part of its strategic nuclear defenses in our nations, or be prepared to accept any consequences, if we do. Likely locations are Poland and the Czech Republic, on the grounds that they would be well placed there to shoot-down any missiles fired from Iran. One wonders at whom? Putin has expressed a sharp skepticism at this, arguing that there are no such missiles: "Iran does not have missiles with the range", he said - again, I wonder to strike where? Putin speculated that the real motive from the US is to provoke Russia into retaliatory action and drive a wedge between it and Europe.
I imagine it sticks in the Russian craw too, that until less than 20 years ago, both Poland and the Czech Republic were under the Communist banner, and having "relinquished" them to Europe, now it might appear that the US are annexing them, a term with the most sensitive and unfortunate connotations within the context of Russian/European history, i.e. the aftermath of WWII. British relations with Russia are rather strained too, in view of the request that Andrei Lugovoy be extradited to stand trial in the UK for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, reputedly a Russian-spy and bizarrely poisoned with plutonium-210 in a scenario that reads like a James Bond novel. I doubt Ian Fleming could have invented a more outrageous plot. Tony Blair wishes a conference with Mr Putin at the G8 summit, and it would appear they have much to discuss as, were Russia to accede to the UK's request, it would require an amendment to the Russian Constitution, which presently does not allow a Russian citizen to be extradited for trial in any other country.
Putin has not entirely eliminated that this might be done should the weight of evidence so demand it, but he is unconvinced that there is presently sufficient reason for such a dramatic move. Neither did he offer any compromise regarding the particular cases of British oil-giants Shell and B.P., both of whom have had the terms of their contracts for oil-investments in Russia rewritten in the light of alleged breaches in their licenses. One cannot help but feel that an example is being made of them. Mr Putin insists that he seeks "cooperation not confrontation", and lays blame squarely with the US for its intransigence. He called on "our American friends to rethink their decision (about putting nuclear missiles in Europe, that is), and warned that "we cannot be responsible for our reciprocal steps because it is not us who is initiating an arms race in Europe."
He added: "We will need to establish such systems which would be able to penetrate the [US] missile defense systems..." Mr Putin also implied that, in retaliation, Russia might veto agreements to curb conventional forces too: "What kind of means will be used to hit the targets that our military believe are potential threats - ballistic missiles, or cruise missiles, or some kind of new defense system? We see that Eastern Europe is being filled with new equipment, two positions in Bulgaria and Romania, as well as Radar in the Czech Republic, and missile systems in Poland. What is happening? Unilateral disarmament of Russia is happening."
It took a good forty years to attain the level of peace that now exists in Europe; from which a return to the days of the "cold war" is surely unthinkable, especially to those who actually live here.
"Putin raises spectre of nuclear war in Europe," The Times, June 4th, 2007.