A US missile defense site in Romania aimed at protecting Europe from ballistic missile threats went live Thursday, angering Russia, which opposes its presence in its former area of influence, the AP reports. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tried to reassure Russia as he spoke at a ceremony attended by US, NATO, and Romanian officials at the Soviet-built base, located 110 miles southwest of Bucharest. The NATO missile defense site "in no way undermines or weakens Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent. This site in Romania, as well as the one in Poland, are not directed against Russia," Stoltenberg said. "The interceptors are too few, and located too far south or too close to Russia, to be able to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles." Stoltenberg said the interceptors were designed "instead to tackle the potential threat posed by short and medium-range attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area."
US officials say the Romanian missile shield, which cost $800 million, is intended to fend off missile threats from Iran and isn't aimed at Russia. Stoltenberg noted that Moscow had unilaterally terminated cooperative dialogue about missile defense in 2013, but he added the alliance would continue to try and engage Russia in dialogue where possible. "In times of tension, keeping channels of communication open is even more important," he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin's rep said Moscow was already taking measures for "securing the necessary level of security in Russia." Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the State Duma's defense committee, told the Interfax news agency the missile defense site "is a direct threat to us. They are moving to the firing line. This is not just 100; it's 200, 300, 1,000% aimed against us." On Friday, Polish and US officials will break ground at a planned missile defense site in the Polish village of Redzikowo, near the Baltic Sea. (Read more Romania stories.)