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Medvedev Says Russia To Rearm Military As NATO Expands

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- President Dmitry Medvedev, who seeks to improve chilly ties with the United States, has said Russia would rearm its military and boost nuclear forces because U.S.-led NATO is expanding toward Russia's borders.

"Attempts to expand the military infrastructure of NATO near the borders of our country are continuing," Medvedev told an annual meeting with the Defense Ministry's staff.

Russia has described plans by the previous U.S. administration to grant NATO membership to ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia, and to deploy elements of a U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe, as a direct threat to its national security.

Moscow has said it appreciates U.S. President Barack Obama's intention to give their ties a fresh start, though Medvedev, who will meet Obama in London on April 1, has said he expects Washington to match declarations with deeds.

Medvedev told Russia's top military brass that the prospect of NATO's expansion, combined with a threat of local crises and international terrorism, "requires a modernization of our armed forces, giving them a new modern shape."

He said Russia had the resources to fund this modernization, despite the current economic crisis.

"The primary task is to increase the combat readiness of our forces. First of all, our strategic nuclear forces. They must be able to fulfill all the necessary tasks to ensure Russia's security," Medvedev said. "Another task on our agenda is the transfer of all combat units into the category of permanent readiness."

Medvedev said the large-scale modernization of the army and navy would begin in 2011.