(Vatican Radio) The United States has officially begun building a military installation in Poland that will form part of a larger missile defense shield for Europe, operated by the NATO military alliance. Friday's construction began shortly after the U.S. switched on an $800 million defensive missile launcher in Romania, provoking an angry reaction from Russia which views the project as a threat to its security.
After years of preparation workers have now begun building the U.S. anti-ballistic-missile instillation at Poland's former military airport in Redzikowo near the Baltic coast. The site will be able to host some 300 American troops in 2018.
Situated about 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, it will host 24 land-based SM-3 missiles as well as antiaircraft systems. The installation in Poland is the final site of the European missile shield, which will be handed over to the NATO in July and run from a U.S. air base in Germany.
It will be a counterpart to a base in the southern Romanian village of Deveselu.
In Romania, accompanied by an honor guard and military band, senior U.S. and NATO officials declared operational what is Europe's first land-based defensive missile launcher site.
The system is capable of shooting down rockets from countries such as Iran that Washington claims could one day reach major European cities. Moscow is furious saying the shield upsets the strategic balance in Europe, posing a security threat to Russia.
Yet speaking in Romania, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work played down Russia's fears. "It was never, ever about Russia. It was always about ballistic missiles coming out of the Middle Eastern region towards NATO allies and U.S. forces in Europe," he said.
"And I just like to echo what the NATO secretary general has said. We have offered to the Russians to show them the technical specs. We have done everything we can to try to make sure that they understand the capabilities of the system and why it does not pose any type of a threat to their strategic deterrence," Work added.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the same ceremony that the missile defence shield does not undermine or weaken what he called Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent.