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No Need Now For Missiles In Kaliningrad, Russia Says

Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia will not deploy new missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave after the United States dropped plans for an antimissile shield in Eastern Europe, Russia's deputy defense minister has said.

"Naturally, we will scrap the measures that Russia planned to take in response to the deployment of missile defense in Eastern Europe," Vladimir Popovkin told Ekho Moskvy radio station.

"One of these measures was the deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region," he said.

His comment echoed a statement by Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, who on September 18 also welcomed a proposal from NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen for more cooperation with Russia on anti-missile systems.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described as "correct and brave" President Barack Obama's decision to drop the missile shield intended for Europe by his predecessor George W. Bush.

Popovkin said Russia would continue spending the bulk of its defense budget on the development of strategic nuclear forces.

"This is our shield. We need to develop it so if somebody attacks us we have something to respond with. And that [response] won't seem small to anyone," he said.

Washington had proposed the missile shield because of concerns Iran was trying to develop nuclear warheads -- something Tehran denies -- and could mount them on long-range missiles.

But Russia saw it as a threat to its own missile defenses and overall security.

Under Obama's new plan, the United States would initially deploy ships with missile interceptors and in a second phase would field land-based defense systems.

Popovkin also confirmed Russia was keen to buy a Mistral-class warship from France, which many experts said would have helped the country fight its five-day war against Georgia last year. But he said the move was complicated by opposition from Russia's military industrial sector.

"We are in talks but haven't bought anything yet," he said adding that Russia also wanted to modernize some outdated nuclear cruisers.

"We must have at least two-three such cruisers...We inherited several such cruisers from the Soviet fleet," he said.