Speaking at a press-conference in Kremlin today, President Putin said that "deployment of elements of U.S. missile defense systems in Europe today is absolutely equivalent to the deployment of Pershing cruise missiles in Europe in the early 1980s" (as quoted by RIA Novosti). This kind of rhetoric is just plain irresponsible.

To begin with, it is clear that it's just that - rhetoric. Putin doesn't even seem to be aware that Pershing had never been a cruise missile (where is his famous grasp of details when you need it?) [UPDATE: Official transcript does not have "cruise missiles", which were in all press reports.] Then, to compare the current situation in Europe to the one in 1983, when U.S. missiles were deployed, is indeed irresponsible. Those who remember that time or studied it in some detail would agree that that was one of the most dangerous periods of the cold war confrontation. Anyone who suggests that 2007 is anything like 1983 just demonstrates that he has no idea what he is talking about.

This is not to say that the planned U.S. missile defense deployment is irrelevant or completely benign. Not at all. Missile defense is an irresponsible and dangerous idea on its own right. That danger, however, has nothing to do with its ability or inability to upset the alleged "strategic balance in Europe". Deployment of interceptors in Europe would be wrong, but not because they would be able to intercept Russian missiles. It's mostly because they won't be able to intercept any missiles - missile defense has no military value to speak of. As for its political value, the only effect that it may have is exactly what we see today in Europe - mistrust, suspicion, and disagreement. The Unites States, of course, bears most of the responsibility for the current situation, but it would have been very helpful if Mr. Putin and others would think carefully before saying something.