Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has issued a strident warning to the West, threatening to aim missiles at U.S. missile-defense sites in Europe if Washington does not adequately address Moscow's concerns about the planned system.
He also said that Russia might withdraw from the New START nuclear-arms-reduction treaty with the United States if Washington did not allay its fears that the planned missile shield will undermine Moscow's nuclear arsenal.
In a televised statement on November 23, the Russian leader ratcheted up the rhetoric on an issue that has long proven intractable.
"I have tasked the armed forces to develop measures ensuring, if necessary, the destruction of the information and control services of the missile-defense system," Medvedev said.
He warned that Russia might deploy Iskander missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad exclave, which borders the EU, as well as in other areas in the south and west of the country, unless it received legally binding guarantees that the U.S. shield is not a threat to Russia.
"We are told that [missile-defense] plans are not aimed against Russia. They say: 'It's not against you. Don't worry,'" Medvedev said.
"They are reassuring us, but it is done at the executive level while legislators in some countries tell us directly that [the missile shield] is aimed against us. But when we propose that we put this on paper in the form of clear, unambiguous legal obligations, we receive a firm refusal."
The United States insists that its defense system is aimed at countering potential attacks by Iran or North Korea and says it will not have the technical capacity to deter Russia's arsenal. Washington has maintained, however, that it will not agree to any restrictions on the system.
Dialogue Not Working Out
The shield, set to be completed by 2020, calls for placing land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in European locations and upgrading them over time.
An Iskander missile system
Washington has already reached agreements to place 24 interceptor missiles in Romania, as well as a sophisticated radar system in Turkey.
Amid threats from Moscow similar to Medvedev's, U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 ordered a major redesign of plans he inherited from former President George W. Bush. That plan envisioned placing interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic.
But dialogue between the United States and Russia on potential cooperation on missile defense has failed to make strides since.
In discussions with NATO this year, a Russian proposal to designate sectors of responsibility for missile defense was deemed not viable.
Medvedev said Russia was "not closing the door either to further dialogue on missile defense with the United States or NATO or to practical cooperation in this area."
However, he warned that absent any progress, Russia could withdraw from the New START treaty. "In an unfavorable scenario, Russia reserves the right to abandon further steps in the area of disarmament and arms control," he said.
"Furthermore, considering the inseparable link between strategic offensive and defensive weapons, there may be reasons for Russia to withdraw from the START treaty."
New START Over?
Agreed late last year, the treaty cut deployed stockpiles of nuclear warheads on both sides by nearly a third.
It was approved by U.S. lawmakers only after repeated assurances by the Obama administration that it would not constrain missile-defense plans.
The administration has since hailed the treaty as the cornerstone of its "reset" in relations between the former Cold War foes.
Analysts noted that Medvedev's comments, coming ahead of December 4 parliamentary elections, were likely aimed at tapping into Russian nationalist sentiment on behalf of his ruling United Russia party ahead of the vote.
However, they did generate a response from Washington, where U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner reiterated that the planned system would not inhibit Russia's arsenal.
"Unfortunately, the rhetoric from Russia hasn't changed even though we've tried for many years to engage with them constructively on missile defense," Toner said.
"We're going to continue to try to engage with them constructively on missile defense. We want that kind of cooperation because we believe it's in both our interests, Europe's interests, and Russia's."
He also said the United States "sees no basis for threats to withdraw" from the New START treaty.
The White House's National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said in a statement that the United States would not limit or change its missile-defense plans.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "very disappointed" with Russia's threat, saying in a statement that moving missiles toward the EU's borders "would be reminiscent of the past and...inconsistent with the strategic relations NATO and Russia have agreed they seek."
compiled from agency reports