A major new missile defence system in eastern Europe was made operational yesterday.
The system will allow Nato to shoot down incoming weapons that threaten its territories, including the UK.
The project has been controversial with Russia, but is a cornerstone of Nato’s efforts to improve its defences.
The new $800 million (£550m) system was unveiled at a ceremony in the south of Romania, at a remote military base called Devesulu.
Nato officials insist that the development is aimed at protecting against growing threats from the Middle East.
It is not, they say, capable of providing protection from Russia’s intercontinental missiles, or even orientated towards that country. The system is geared towards tackling dangers posed by countries such as Iran, which has been testing ballistic missiles.
Devesulu will be one of several locations in Europe that can track such missiles, and intercept them, using sophisticated technology.
The unveiling ceremony was attended by Nato, Romanian and US officials, including Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and America’s deputy secretary of defence, Robert Work.
Mr Stoltenberg said that the missile defence site “in no way undermines or weakens Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent”.
He said: “This site in Romania, as well as the one [planned] in Poland, are not directed against Russia. The interceptors are too few, and located too far south or too close to Russia, to be able to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles.”
Mr Stoltenberg added that the interceptors were designed “instead to tackle the potential threat posed by short and medium-range attacks from outside the Euro-Atlantic area”.
Mr Stoltenberg noted that Moscow had unilaterally terminated co-operative dialogue about missile defence in 2013. He said the alliance would continue to seek dialogue.
The Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said yesterday his country wanted a “permanent [Nato] naval presence” in the Black Sea. “It is important that a credible and predictable presence can be assured of the allied forces on the eastern flank, to balance the northern dimension with the southern and eastern flank.”
The Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow was already taking measures for “securing the necessary level of security in Russia”.
Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, chair of the State Duma’s defence committee, said: “This is a direct threat to us. They are moving to the firing line. This is not just 100; it’s 200, 300, 1,000 per cent aimed against us.”
Ben Lowry analysis of missile base: Saturday’s News Letter