Gates, who is here for Ukraine-related NATO consultations, reiterated the U.S. position that nations on Russia’s periphery who want better relations with the West do not present threats to Russia.
The secretary spoke during a news conference with Ansip.
In a speech last week, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev said his country will place missiles in Kaliningrad, a section of Russia on the Baltic Sea bordering Poland, in direct response to a NATO plan to place a European missile defense system in place. The radar for the NATO system will be in the Czech Republic, and the 10 interceptor missiles will be based in Poland.
The system is aimed at combating missiles fired from rogue states such as Iran and could not possibly be imagined to be a threat to Russia, officials traveling with Gates said. The United States has offered many assurances to Russia on the missile defense system, they said, including a proposal that would allow Russian observers at the sites. News reports out of Moscow citing an unnamed Kremlin official today said Russian officials rejected U.S. proposals on the missile system.
“I hope this unnamed Kremlin official does not express his government’s true wishes, because we still very much wish to partner with Russia to combat the growing ballistic missile threat emanating from Iran, as evidenced by Tehran conducting another missile test this week,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters traveling with Gates today.
“Though the Iranians failed yet again, they are clearly determined to develop a weapon capable of reaching Europe and, for that matter, Russia so it continues to be in our mutual interest to work together on this issue,” Morrell said.
The State Department still is working with the Russians on setting a date in December for another round of missile defense talks, officials traveling with Gates said.
Russia has increasingly asserted itself in nations that once were part of the old Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact, officials said. Gates and other U.S. officials have countered that any nation’s desire to improve relations with the West does not translate into animosity toward Russia.
“Russia has no need to impede a sovereign country’s desire to more fully integrate with the West – it is not a threat to Russian security,” Gates said
On the cyber security front, Gates announced today that the United States will co-sponsor the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence that is now up and running in Estonia.
The center grew out of the largest cyber attack launched on any nation to date. In April 2007, cyber criminals launched denial-of-service attacks on Estonian computer infrastructure. These attacks shut down the Estonian parliament, newspapers, banks and other national institutions.
“It is a tribute to the Estonian people that they turned that attack into a success story,” Gates said during a news conference following his meeting. “Today, they are leaders in the field of cyber security and have shared their technological know-how with other allies.”
The Russian invasion of Georgia has worried Estonia and the other Baltic republics of Latvia and Lithuania. The secretary will meet with the defense ministers of all the Baltic republics later today. The trip, in part, is designed to showcase U.S. support for the Baltic states, a senior defense official said.
Ansip said NATO will operate under the principle of Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty, which states that an attack on one ally is treated as an attack on all.
“We are convinced that Estonia, as a member of NATO, will be very well defended,” the prime minister said through an interpreter. “NATO has plans to defend all members of the alliance.”
Gates said the alliance members engage in prudent planning. “We are always reviewing our assessment of the security situation,” he said. He noted that planners with U.S. European Command visited Estonia in September, and that the consultations and defense talks will continue.
Estonia has been a reliable and trustworthy ally of the United States and is a NATO member, and Estonian soldiers operate in many peacekeeping missions around the world, Ansip said.
Gates called Estonia a role model for democratic reform and an active contributor to NATO. “In fact, Estonia has one of the highest deployment rates in the alliance,” he said. Estonian forces operate in southern Afghanistan and are members of the coalition in Iraq.
“Its contributions and skills have been commended by many in the international community,” Gates said. “The government of Iraq’s interest in keeping an Estonian presence in their country is a credit to Estonia’s forces.
“I would like personally to thank the men and women of the Estonian military for their brave service and sacrifice. They have earned the respect and admiration of their NATO colleagues, as well as that of the American people.”