Denmark slams Russian envoy's nuclear target warning

U.S. troops at a launching station for Patriot air and missile defense in Poland March 21.

Story highlights

  • Denmark slams Russia's envoy for warning against joining the NATO missile shield
  • Ambassador Mikhail Vanin says he did not think the Danes fully understood the consequences
  • Joining would make Danish warships "targets for Russian nuclear missiles," Vanin says

(CNN)Denmark has slammed as "unacceptable" comments by Russia's envoy to Denmark that joining NATO's missile defense shield would make Danish warships "targets for Russian nuclear missiles."

In August last year, Denmark said that at least one of its frigates would be equipped with a radar that would allow it to contribute to NATO's missile defense shield.
    In an opinion article published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten on Saturday, Russian Ambassador Mikhail Vanin said he did not think the Danes fully understood the consequences of joining the missile shield.
    "If this happens, Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles," he wrote.
    Denmark's Minister for Foreign Affairs Martin Lidegaard said Vanin's remarks were unacceptable.
    "Russia knows full well that NATO's missile defense is defensive and not targeted at them (Russia)," Lidegaard said."However, I would not over-dramatize this. Right now we disagree with Russia on many important issues, but we also cooperate, for example, in the Arctic and it is important that the tone between us does not escalate. We certainly are not contributing to that."

    Ukraine tensions

    Tensions between Russia and NATO member countries have been mounting since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and claims its military has been involved in the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly denied its military is involved.
    In April 2014, NATO foreign ministers said they had "decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia" over the issue.
    The United States and NATO allies have been conducting military exercises as part of "Operation Atlantic Resolve," which the United States describes as "a demonstration of our continued commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to the enduring peace and stability in the region, in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine specifically."
    On March 2, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told the alliance's annual meeting on arms control: "Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and its continuing destabilization of Eastern Ukraine have put the European security system -- and all the rules and agreements that underpin it -- under severe strain."
    Last Monday, state-run Russian media reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered his Northern Fleet "to full alert in a snap combat readiness exercise" in the Arctic.
    At least one Russian leader described the drill as routine and unrelated to the "international situation." Conversely, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov told Tass news agency that Russia was "deeply concerned" about NATO drills near its border.
    NATO says the long-term goal of its missile shield is "to merge individual Allies' missile defense assets into a coherent defense system, providing full protection for NATO European populations, territory and forces against ballistic missiles threats."
    NATO has previously asked Russia to participate in the system, but negotiations were deadlocked over Russia's demand for a legally binding treaty guaranteeing the shield would not be used as a deterrent to Moscow's own systems.