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Russia: Moscow Proposes European Missile Defense System

Moscow, 20 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russia today countered U.S. plans to build a national missile defense (NMD) system by offering to set up a joint mobile European missile defense shield. The Russian side presented the drafts during a meeting between NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev. Russian officials said that contrary to the U.S. NMD -- the proposed European non-strategic defense system will keep existing arms accords intact. President Vladimir Putin said Russia is ready to present details of its plans for what he called a "non-strategic European missile defense system" to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Russia vigorously opposes the planned U.S. NMD, which it says will wreck existing arms agreements. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Defense Ministry's international department, said the Russian proposal would keep current arms accords intact.

Under the Russian plan, as outlined by Ivashov, the non-strategic European system will be developed only in the case of a clearly emerging missile risk to European states from a specific direction.

Putin also said that, besides Washington's defense plans, he views NATO's eastward expansion as one of the most disturbing problems facing Russia.

"The expansion of the (NATO) defense alliance towards our borders cannot be explained any other way than as a threat to Russia, and we are concerned about other statements by other Western officials, of which we are aware -- we can read -- which try to resurrect the image of Russia as an evil empire which is threatening someone."

Putin was referring to recent comments by U.S. President George W. Bush's security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who, in an interview with a French magazine, said Russia "constitutes a threat to the West in general and to (Washington's) European allies in particular."

(For more on this topic, see related stories in "Weekday Magazine.")