MOSCOW Russia and its post-Soviet allies are planning to create a joint air defense system stretching from NATO's borders to China, news agencies quoted an official from their Moscow-led regional security group as saying on Friday. Russia and Belarus, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, agreed Tuesday to merge their air defense systems in a move seen by many experts as a response to U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
"The united air defense system of Russia and Belarus will become part of a joint air defense system of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB)," Interfax news agency quoted general secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha as saying.
The seven-member ODKB also includes the Caucasus republic of Armenia and four Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
"We are planning to create within the framework of our organization three regional air defense systems including Russia-Belarus, Russia-Armenian in the Caucasus region and the Central Asian air defense system," Bordyuzha added.
The joint air defense project, which would combine early warning systems of member states and create a single control center, has been talked about for years. Bordyuzha did not say when the project would finally be accomplished.
Out of seven ODKB states only Russia has a major modern air defense system capable of detecting and destroying both airplanes and missiles. Russia also has several major radars in ex-Soviet states.
Moscow has recently stepped up efforts to reinforce economic, military and security ties with ex-Soviet allies most of whom are being actively courted by the West and show some willingness for a more balanced foreign policy less dependent on Moscow.
Russia and Belarus decided on the creation of the joint air defense system Tuesday, a day before ODKB leaders agreed to set up a joint fast reaction force at their summit in Moscow.
The decisions have been accompanied by hefty Russian financial aid to allies struggling with the global crisis.
Russia has promised to consider nearly $3 billion in fresh credits to Belarus and agreed to contribute up to $7 billion to a $10 billion regional emergency fund.
Analysts say the creation of a joint air defense system may also be a response to the U.S. missile shield plans in Europe viewed by Moscow as a direct threat to national security.
Moscow is seeking to persuade new U.S. President Barack Obama to review a decision by his predecessor George W. Bush to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech republic.
Stronger regional alliances may give Russia a stronger say in talks with Washington, which will also include the sensitive issues of NATO membership for ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia and Russia's support to the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan.
Tuesday, Kyrgyzstan announced it would close a U.S. air base near its capital Bishkek, a key element in supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The decision was made after Russia offered Kyrgyzstan a life-saving aid package of over $2 billion.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who has sought to persuade NATO and the European Union to review global security arrangements, has said he will speak to Western partners on behalf of ODKB allies as well.
(Writing by Oleg Shchedrov, editing by Myra MacDonald)