Nato’s supreme commander in Europe has accused Russia of turning up the political pressure on any country wanting to become part of the western missile shield, after Moscow threatened Denmark with nuclear weapons.
General Philip Breedlove said Russia was playing to a pattern by putting pressure on Denmark in response to the Scandinavian country saying it would contribute to a Nato missile defence programme that has garnered the intense opposition of the Kremlin.
“Romania was subject to pressure and then Poland,” the general said. “Now any country that wants to be part of the missile-shield programme is going to get diplomatic and political pressure from Russia.”
Over the weekend, the Danish press carried an article written by Mikhail Vanin, Russia’s ambassador to Copenhagen, warning Denmark it could face a nuclear attack if it became part of a shield intended, Nato claims, to protect its members from attacks by rogue states.
“I don’t think the Danes fully understand the consequences of what will happen if Denmark joins the American-controlled missile defence,” the ambassador wrote.
“If it happens, Danish warships will become targets for Russian atomic missiles. Denmark will become a part of the threat against Russia. It will be less peaceful and the relationship with Russia will be harmed.
“It is of course your decision – I want to simply remind you that it will cost you both money and security. At the same time, Russia has missiles that are guaranteed to break through future global missile defence systems.”
The ambassador’s warning, and its timing, surprised Denmark, given that it came some seven months after Denmark first declared its willingness to contribute to the anti-missile shield.
During that time Russia expressed no objection to the Danish choice, although it continued to suggest the shield was a threat to its ballistic missile force and its national security, and opposed Poland’s and Romania’s decision to host components of it.
Martin Lidegaard, Denmark’s foreign minister, condemned Mr Vanin’s statement as “unacceptable”.
“That Denmark will join the missile defence system with radar capacity on one or more of our frigates is not an action that is targeted against Russia, but rather to protect us against rogue states, terrorist organisations and others that have the capacity to fire missiles at Europe and the US,” he said.
“Russia knows full well that Nato’s missile defence is not aimed at them. We are in disagreement with Russia on a number of important things, but it is important that the tone between us does not escalate.”
The row between Denmark and Russia will darken the shadow already cast over relations between Moscow and Scandinavia. Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark have all recorded increased Russian air force or naval activities in the Baltic Sea region. In response, this month Copenhagen announced it would increase military co-operation with non-Nato-member Sweden, while Stockholm also said it would deploy troops on the strategic island of Gotland for the first time in ten years.
On Sunday, nationalist supporters of Mr Putin brought together controversial far-right politicians from across Europe in an effort to demonstrate international support for Russia and weaken European Union commitment to sanctions imposed over the country’s role in Ukraine.
Mr Putin’s critics pointed to the irony of St Petersburg, his home town, welcoming neo-Nazis as Russia prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.
The meeting drew about 40 protesters, who held signs denouncing fascism, and about eight of them were detained by police.