Poland and the Czech Republic risk being targeted by Russian missiles if they agree to host a proposed U.S. missile defense system, a top Russian general warned Monday. Russia has been increasingly bellicose in its response to the U.S. proposal to build the missile defense system in Eastern Europe. President Vladimir Putin has said he does not trust U.S. claims that the system would be to guard the American East Coast and Europe from missiles launched from ‘rogue nations’ in the Middle East.
Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, head of Russia’s missile forces, said the system would upset strategic stability. It would be the first such site in Europe.
‘If the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic take such a step … the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of targeting these facilities if a relevant decision is made,’ he said.
On Monday, Czech Premier Mirek Topolanek said his country and Poland were in favor of the U.S. missile defense proposal.
‘I think it is in our joint interest to negotiate this initiative and to build in our area the missile defense,’ Topolanek said after talks in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
The bases in Poland and the Czech Republic would be designed to intercept missiles being developed by Iran, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said last month. Two other bases in Alaska and California would protect the U.S. from threats from North Korea, Obering said.
Kaczynski brushed aside Russia’s fears, saying ‘the missile defense is not directed against any normal state.’
‘Any statement suggesting that the missile defense would change the alignment of forces in Europe is a misunderstanding,’ he said. ‘This truth is being conveyed to our partners in the west and the east.’
State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said Monday the United States has worked closely with the Czech and Polish governments to develop the missile defense system and that it was in no way directed at Russia.
‘We have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense because we believe we face a common threat emanating from the Middle East as well as other areas,’ Vasquez said.
Solovtsov said he was concerned that the United States, which plans to deploy 10 interceptors in Poland, could boost those numbers in the future.
The general also said it would take Russia less than six years to build upgraded versions of medium range missiles if Moscow decided to pull out of a 1987 agreement with the U.S. that banned their deployment.
‘It is not difficult to restore their production,’ Solovtsov told a news conference. ‘The missiles were dismantled, but the production technology has remained.’
Russian military officials have said Moscow’s decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty would depend on whether the United States goes ahead with the missile defense plan. The key arms control agreement was negotiated between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former President Ronald Reagan.
At a European security conference earlier this month, Putin said the treaty was outdated, and that many nations had since developed the medium-range missiles eliminated by Russia and the United States.
Putin has warned that Russia could respond to the deployment of U.S. missile defense in Europe by building new, more efficient weapons. He had previously boasted that Russia was developing new missiles that would be impossible to intercept.
Solovtsov said Russia would continue gradually replacing Soviet-built intercontinental ballistic missiles with new Topol-M missiles and would fully rearm around 2016 while maintaining levels under a 2002 arms control treaty signed by Putin and President Bush. That treaty obliges both sides to cut their strategic nuclear weapons by about two-thirds by 2012.
‘It’s possible to deploy such weapons shortly if the situation requires that,’ Solovtsov said.
Associated Press Writers Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this story.
The Associated Press