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Putin Talks Tough

DW staff / AFP (win)June 3, 2007

Russia stepped up the Cold War rhetoric on Sunday with President Vladimir Putin warning it would point missiles at Europe if the US expands its defenses near its borders.

Putin and Bush will get a chance to talk things over at the G8 summit in GermanyImage: AP

Together with comments from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Putin upped the stakes in a war of words with Washington over US missile defense shield plans that have seen a sharp downward spiral in relations.

Lavrov shrugged off American insistence that its plan to deploy missile defense hardware in Poland and the Czech Republic poses no threat, casting it as an attempt to encircle Russia militarily.

"If strategic components of the American arsenal appear in Europe near our borders, we are obliged to ... cut off potential threats from that deployment," Lavrov said in comments broadcast on the state-run television channel Vesti-24.

A threat to Russia?

The US plan "wonderfully fits the overall picture of American global anti-missile defense, which according to our analysis -- just look at the map -- is being deployed along Russia's perimeter, and also China's, incidentally."

After repeated warnings from Russia that the US proposals would set off a new arms race, Moscow tested a new multi-warhead missile last week that Putin said was a direct response to US actions.

And in his boldest remarks to date on the issue, the Russian president has warned that Russia would once again target Europe with missiles like it did during the Cold War.

"The anti-missile shield is part of a nuclear system that protects American territory," Putin said in an interview with newspapers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations. "For the first time in history, elements of it are being moved to Europe.

"We will get new targets in Europe"

"If the US nuclear potential extends across the European territory, we will get new targets in Europe," he said. "It will then be up to our military experts to identify which targets will be aimed by ballistic missiles and which ones will be aimed by cruise missiles."

The interview was due to be published on Monday but pre-released by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine. Putin and his peers are meeting for a three-day G8 summit which begins in Germany on Wednesday.

"We want to re-balance the defense instruments with more efficient offensive equipment but we know that this could lead to a renewed arms race for which we are, however, not responsible," Putin said.

Tensions over the plan have helped send relations between the two states to levels many analysts say haven't been seen since the Cold War.

NATO-Russian cooperation

In spite of the sharp words, Lavrov pointed to a previous avenue of Russian cooperation with the West on missile defence, saying: "It would be better to resume work within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council on creating theater missile defense."

Developing a missile defense system to protect deployed troops from missile attacks is one of several joint programs by the NATO-Russia Council, and is scheduled to be completed by 2010.

Washington says the central European shield, which foresees 10 missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, would protect against potential threats from states such as Iran or North Korea.

Russia has responded with skepticism, suggesting the shield's real goal is reducing Russia's military strength.

Logo der NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
Can NATO help diffuse the situation?
National Missile Defense
US officials say the system poses no threat to RussiaImage: www.space4peace.org