BBC World News – 2007-06-04 22:59:59
MOSCOW (June 4, 2007) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow is preparing to take retaliatory measures if the US builds missile defence systems in Europe.
He described as non-existent the threat from Iran that Washington says the new system is designed to counter, suggesting it might be aimed at Russia. Last week, Russia said it had tested a ballistic missile to maintain “strategic balance” in the world.
The US says the system, to be placed in Eastern Europe, is not aimed at Russia. Washington wants to deploy interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to counter what it describes as a potential threat from “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea.
Mr Putin made his comments in an interview with foreign reporters ahead of the G8 meeting that starts in Germany on Wednesday. US President George W Bush is due to meet him at the three-day summit in the resort of Heiligendamm. The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow says if Mr Putin’s words are anything to go by the summit is likely to be stormy.
Mr Putin said he hoped US officials would change their minds about the missile defence plan. “If this doesn’t happen, then we disclaim responsibility for our retaliatory steps, because it is not we who are the initiators of the new arms race which is undoubtedly brewing in Europe,” he said.
Mr Putin said neither Iran nor North Korea had the weapons that the system was intended to shoot down. “We are being told the anti-missile defence system is targeted against something that does not exist. Doesn’t it seem funny to you?” he asked.
Meanwhile top Iranian security official Ali Larijani described the planned deployment as the “joke of the year”, adding that Iranian missiles were not capable of reaching Europe.
Mr Putin said a new arms race would be the fault of the US. He said Washington had “altered the strategic balance” by unilaterally pulling out of the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty in 2002.
“If the American nuclear potential grows in European territory, we will have to have new targets in Europe,” Mr Putin said. “It is up to our military to define these targets, in addition to defining the choice between ballistic and cruise missiles.”
Last Tuesday, Russia tested an RS-24 missile that successfully struck its target 5,500km (3,400 miles) away. It was designed to evade missile defence systems, Russia’s defence ministry said.
Mr Putin went on to accuse the West of hypocrisy in criticising Russia’s human rights record. He said the US was the main violator of freedoms and human rights around the world and that France, Germany and Britain had problems of their own.
Finally he accused Britain of foolishness in trying to extradite former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, another former KGB agent and a critic of Mr Putin.
Q&A: US Missile Defence >
What is the US missile defence system and why is Russia so upset by its proposed expansion into Europe? http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/europe/6720153.stm
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has threatened to retaliate against a proposed US missile defence system in Europe by targeting Russian missiles against European nations.
What is the US proposing to do?
The United States wants to build a system that will let it knock out incoming ballistic missiles.
This involves stationing radars in Alaska and California in the US and at Fylingdales in the UK. Another radar is planned for Greenland.
Anti-missile missiles, or interceptors, are being based in Alaska (40 of them) and California (four) and the plan is to put 10 of them in Poland with an associated radar in the Czech Republic.
There would also be 130 interceptors based on ships. The interceptors work by physically hitting the ballistic missile.
Why in Eastern Europe?
The US says there is a gap in its anti-missile defences.
A threat from North Korea could be countered with the US and sea-based systems. But European allies or US forces in Europe could be threatened by Iran one day, Washington says, or indeed some other country, so there needs to be a system based in Europe as well.
Why are the Russians angry?
They say that the plan to develop the system into Eastern Europe threatens their own missiles, which, they say, could eventually be destroyed on launch. This, they claim, would undermine the doctrine of deterrence. They argue that the current plans might be small, but could be the start of something bigger.
What might the Russians do in response?
President Putin has threatened to take counter-measures, such as choosing “new targets”, as he put it, in Europe. Presumably these would include the two sites chosen for the anti-missile system. This new arms race would, he suggested, increase the risk of nuclear war in Europe.
He wants the proposed deployment of the US system stopped. Russia has just announced the testing of a new multiple-warhead missile, the RS-24, which it says is designed to overcome missile defences. It is also developing new cruise missiles.
Why has President Putin spoken out now?
Observers think he is concerned about wider issues than just stopping the shield.
His approach in office has been to follow more nationalistic policies than his predecessor, President Boris Yeltsin, who is felt in Russia to have given too much to the West.
So on a range of issues, President Putin is trying to make Russian influence count.
Why does the US say the Russians should not be worried?
The US argues that the 10 interceptors in Poland and the radar in the Czech Republic could not possibly do any harm to any Russian ballistic missile. “You’re not going to counter the hundreds of Russian ICBMs and the thousands of warheads that are represented by that fleet with 10 interceptors in a field in Europe,” says Gen Henry Obering, head of the US Missile Defense Agency.
In addition, he says, the radar would be too small to track Russian missiles effectively.
Does Iran have a missile capable of reaching Europe or the US?
The US think-tank, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, says: “Iran currently possesses the capability to employ ballistic missiles and/or long-range artillery rockets against its regional neighbours, Israel, and US forces deployed in the region.
“Given favourable conditions, Iran is currently on track to be able to extend its ballistic missile capabilities to include Southern Europe, North Africa and South Asia by 2005-2010 and possibly the continental United States by 2015.”
What international agreements cover these moves?
None. The US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001. This treaty limited US and Soviet anti-missile defences to one site each. The Russians still operate theirs, around Moscow. The US chose to defend its strategic rockets in North Dakota but this defence has been deactivated.
Part of the Russian unhappiness about the Europe sector of the anti-missile system is that it results from the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty and Russia is worried about where it might go next. The US says it should not be worried.
Is this the start of a new Cold War?
It is certainly a difficult period where mistrust and antagonism are prevalent.
The hopes that Russia and the United States could be friendly allies have not been realised so far.
Instead there is suspicion and this is likely to continue, though to call it a new Cold War is probably going too far. President Putin leaves office next spring and President Bush in early 2009, so a lot depends on their successors.
What ballistic missiles do the US and Russia have?
They have dramatically reduced their arsenals from the Cold War days but still retain substantial forces of several thousand missiles and nuclear warheads each. Under the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) signed by presidents Bush and Putin in 2002, each side has to reduce its deployed warheads to a maximum of 2,200 by 2012.
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