Russia and NATO trade barbs over missile shield
Russia warned NATO on Wednesday it was being pushed into a new arms race by a missile shield whose deployment in Europe threatened to cast a shadow over crunch talks between the two former foes.
The warning from Russia's top general came on the third successive day of tense diplomatic exchanges between Moscow and the West over a contested poll that Vladimir Putin's party won despite allegations of fraud.
NATO is largely expected to tell Russia at a two-day meeting starting Thursday in Brussels that the missile system's deployment was non-negotiable despite Moscow's objections and threats.
The mix of European radar and interceptors -- a key part of a global shield being studied by the United States -- are designed to protect against potential attacks from Iran amid worries about the Islamic state's nuclear programme.
But Russia fears the system could one day make its own shrinking nuclear arsenal ineffective and has outlined a series of retaliatory steps it may take should NATO ignore its concerns.
"Russia does not need a new arms race, but we are being pushed into one," Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov told a group of foreign military attaches.
"Why is Russia being disengaged from Europe? Who needs this? We are ready to cooperate and jointly build a missile defence system," Makarov said in reference to a proposal already rejected by NATO.
"Why is no one willing to meet us half way? That means this is to someone's interest."
President Dmitry Medvedev last month announced that Russia was ready to deploy intermediate range Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave that borders EU members Poland and Lithuania.
Russia later also switched on a new pan-European radar missile warning system in Kaliningrad and said it reserved the right to strike NATO's European shield components if its demands were not met.
The military kept up the pressure on Wednesday by announcing plans to protect that radar from attack with high-precision S-400 anti-aircraft missiles whose development only concluded a few years ago.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he believed Russia would be wiser to invest money in its own people rather than new weapons pointed at the West.
"It would definitely be a waste of valuable money if Russia started to invest heavily in countermeasures against an artificial enemy that doesn't exist," Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels.
"That money could, in a more profitable way, be invested to the benefit of the Russian people in job creation and modernisation of the Russian society."
The dispute over missile defence has simmered for nearly a decade and at one point saw Moscow suggest the idea of either a jointly operated shield or one in which NATO and Russia are each responsible for protecting a particular region.
NATO however fears sharing sensitive data with a nation that still enjoys close ties with Iran and has refused to allow Moscow to have a say in when to respond to a possible attack.
Medvedev's warning about new deployments came in advance of legislative elections that were won by the ruling United Russia party with a vastly reduced majority.
Several analysts said the announcement was electioneering but the president has gone out of his way to deny this.
Medvedev followed Sunday's disputed polls by warning the West against criticising Russia's political system and he said Wednesday he was looking for "equal and respectful" relations with foreign states.
The Kremlin chief was due to raise defence issues on Thursday in Prague during talks with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas.
The Czech Republic has initially been due to host a radar for the shield before the system's structure was altered by US President Barack Obama.
© 2011 AFP