MOSCOW Russia successfully test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday featuring multiple warheads designed to overcome missile defense systems such as the planned U.S. shield in Europe.
At the same time, President Vladimir Putin stepped up his attacks on the missile shield, saying its deployment in Europe would turn the continent into "a powder keg".
Russian military experts said the new missile was part of the "highly effective response" promised earlier this year by President Vladimir Putin to the shield, which is fiercely opposed by Moscow as a threat to its security.
"It can overcome any potential entire missile defense systems developed by foreign countries," Colonel-General Viktor Yesin told the official Russian Today television channel.
A ministry spokesman said the RS-24 missile was fired from a mobile launcher at 1020 GMT from the Plesetsk cosmodrome about 800 km (500 miles) north of Moscow.
Less than an hour later, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces command said the missile had hit its targets at the Kura test site on the sparsely inhabited far eastern peninsula of Kamchatka to the north of Japan.
"The RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile will strengthen the military potential of Russia's strategic rocket forces to overcome anti-missile defense systems and thereby strengthen the potential nuclear deterrent of Russia's strategic nuclear forces," the Strategic Missile Forces command said in a statement.
Russia says the U.S. missile defense shield is a threat to its security and will change the strategic balance in Europe but Washington dismisses such fears, saying the shield is intended to counter "rogue states".
PUTIN DENOUNCES PLANNED MISSILE SHIELD
Putin issued his latest broadside against the shield after meeting visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates at the Kremlin on Tuesday.
"We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into a powder keg and to stuff it with new weapons," Putin told Socrates, whose country assumes the European Union's rotating presidency on July 1.
"It creates new and unnecessary risks for the whole system of international and European relations".
First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking separately, said the deployment of medium and short range missiles by Russia's neighbors to the east and south now posed a "real threat".
"The Soviet-American treaty (on intermediate nuclear forces) is not effective because since (its signature) scores of countries have appeared that have such missiles while Russia and the United States are not allowed to have them," Ivanov told a military-industrial commission in the southern city of Znamensk.
"In these conditions, it is necessary to provide our troops with modern, high-precision weapons."
Ivanov, a former defense minister and leading hawk, is widely seen as a front-runner to succeed President Vladimir Putin in an election next March although he has not said whether he will run.
The new RS-24 missile can be armed with up to 10 different warheads and is intended to replace Russia's earlier generation intercontinental missiles such as the RS-18 and RS-20.
Its development is part of a drive to re-equip Russia's military with updated weaponry and replace hardware dating from the Cold War.
Missiles carrying multiple independently targeted warheads are more difficult to intercept and destroy completely once they have been fired, making them much harder to defend against.