Russia warned today that it would position its rockets close to the Polish border and point missiles at US bases in Europe if Washington rebuffed its latest offer of cooperation on missile defence.
Russia’s hawkish first deputy prime minister, Sergei Ivanov, made it clear that Moscow would be forced “to respond” if the Bush administration snubbed Vladimir Putin’s offer to work together on missile defence using a Soviet-era radar base.
“If our proposal is not accepted we will take adequate measures. An asymmetrical and effective response will be found,” he said. This response would include basing “new rocket forces in the European part of Russia” in the enclave of Kaliningrad, he said. The Russian missiles would be able to “parry the threats that will arise from the [US] missile defence system,” he added.
The Kremlin’s latest warning comes after two days of meetings between Mr Putin and George Bush at the US president’s seaside family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine. Ahead of the talks the Pentagon had incensed Mr Putin by announcing plans to place elements of its missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Mr Putin has derided US claims that the system is aimed at dealing with rogue missiles fired by Iran and North Korea, saying it is actually aimed at Russia.
Last month Mr Putin suggested the US scrap its existing plans and instead share a Soviet-era radar station in Azerbaijan. During talks this week he went further – offering to work with the US administration over missile defence within the framework of the Nato-Russia Council, and promising use of another early-warning system in southern Russia.
Mr Bush’s answer, however, was decidedly lukewarm. Although the president praised Mr Putin’s offer as “innovative and strategic”, he made it clear that Washington was likely to go ahead anyway with its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. “As I told Vladimir, I think that the Czech Republic and Poland need to be an integral part of the system,” Mr Bush said.
Most experts now believe that Russia will take active military countermeasures. They include targeting the US’s new defence bases in central Europe with Iskandar missiles based in Kaliningrad. Russia will also upgrade its nuclear missile arsenal, put more missiles on mobile launchers and move its fleet of nuclear submarines to the north pole, experts predict.
Mr Putin – who is in Guatemala to hear the fate of Russia’s bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics – struck a conciliatory note today, describing US-Russian relations as “mutually satisfactory”.
“I am sure that, despite known disagreements, which are unavoidable in an open and honest dialogue, the policy of comprehensive development of bilateral ties in all areas will continue,” he said.
Mr Ivanov is, like his boss, a former KGB agent and he is a strong candidate to succeed Mr Putin as president next year. He said that if the Bush administration accepted Mr Putin’s offer there would be no point in talking about a “new cold war”.
“You, journalists, will forget the term ‘cold war’ after that. It will just disappear. Ground for using it will just cease to exist,” Mr Ivanov said at a news conference in Tashkent. Guardian News and Media Limited