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Russia, Belarus Sign Air Defense Pact

Russia threatened to deploy missiles in Europe if the U.S. proceeds with its missile shield
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and Belarus have signed an air defense treaty, boosting military ties between the two opponents of U.S. plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe.

"Signing an agreement to create a joint regional air defense system will be a notable event in strengthening our ties," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told his Belarusians counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the start of their summit at the Kremlin. "We had been long approaching this and now the process is finalized. This will considerably strengthen the defense capability of both Russia and Belarus."

No details of the pact were immediately available.

Neighbors Russia and Belarus have long agreed to create "a union state," and Minsk has joined Moscow in opposing the U.S. missile shield, which Washington plans to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Washington says the shield is needed to counter missile attacks by what it calls rogue states, specifically Iran.

Russian defense officials have in the past discussed the possibility of stationing antimissile systems in Belarus to counter the U.S. shield.

Medvedev said in November that Moscow would deploy Iskander tactical missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad enclave if the United States goes ahead with its shield plans.

The Kremlin has since softened its stance and a local news agency quoted the Russian military as saying last week it had halted plans to deploy the Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.