SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday Washington’s deal with Poland to deploy a missile defence system in Europe shows the rocket shield is really directed against his country.
Poland agreed on Thursday to host elements of a U.S. global anti-missile system after Washington agreed to boost Poland’s own air defences.
“This decision clearly demonstrates everything we have said recently,” Medvedev said when asked about the agreement at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
“The deployment of new anti-missile forces in Europe has as its aim the Russian Federation,” Medvedev said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking next to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, hit back, saying Washington had tried to work with Moscow to prove that the shield was not directed against Russia.
The dispute with Washington over missile defence comes amid an international crisis over Georgia, an ally of the United States aspiring to join NATO. Russian troops routed Georgian forces, who had tried to take control of a Georgian separatist region backed by Moscow.
Russian units then went into several towns in Georgia, provoking the ire of Washington, with top U.S. officials invoking memories of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Washington says the missile system is aimed at protecting the United States and its allies from long-range missiles that could in the future be fired by Iran or groups like al-Qaeda.
The Kremlin says the system is aimed at Russia and undermines Russian security. Russian generals boast it could never stop the fire power of Russia’s giant missile arsenal.
In a sign of Moscow’s displeasure, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday canceled a planned trip to Warsaw in September, Polish diplomats said.
“The moment has been chosen well and therefore any fairy tales about deterring other states, fairy tales that with the help of this system we will deter some sort of rogue states, no longer work,” Medvedev said.
But Rice, speaking in Tbilisi, disputed suggestions that the timing of the deal was significant. The United States and Poland had been negotiating a deal for months.
“I’ve made very clear that we were going to sign that agreement as soon as Poland and the United States had come to terms. And we’ve now come to terms,” she said.
In Washington, officials declined to say what measures the missile shield deal might contain to increase Moscow’s confidence that the system was not aimed against Russia.
The United States previously offered to share missile defense data with Russia and to allow Russian officials access to the shield sites, so long as Polish, Czech and U.S. officials could access Russian missile defense sites.
Under the accord, the United States met a key demand of the Poles by agreeing to bolster Poland’s air defenses with a battery of Patriot missiles.
Washington declined to give details of this arrangement, but Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said U.S. officials would meet Polish officials to discuss enhancing their air defenses and help them identify other defense modernization needs.
“This is helping them identify capabilities. This is largely Polish funding of their modernization efforts,” he said.
Russia earlier this year said it would use unidentified “military means” if the United States deployed a missile defence shield close to its borders.
President George W. Bush on Friday expressed his support for Georgia and accused Russia of “bullying” and damaging its international standing by sending its military into Georgia.
But Bush, delivering a statement from the White House, also said the United States wanted to have good ties with Russia and not revert to Cold War-era relationships.
Additional reporting by Ron Popeski and Marina Golovnina in Moscow, and Susan Cornwell and Andrew Gray in Washington