April 27, 2007 / 1:29 PM / in 11 years

Russia will counter U.S. missile shield: Putin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Friday renewed criticism of U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe, saying Russia would take “appropriate measures” to counter the system.

Putin told Czech President Vaclav Klaus at a Kremlin meeting that the proposed missile shield would be used to track Russian military activities.

“These systems will monitor Russian territory as far as the Ural mountains if we don’t come out with a response,” Putin told Klaus. “And we will indeed do this. Anyone would.”

“We will not get hysterical about this. We will just take appropriate measures,” he said, without elaborating.

Russia views the U.S. plan to base 10 missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic from 2012 as a major threat to its national security.

Washington says the system is needed to defend Europe and U.S. forces there against what it calls “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea. But top Russian politicians say the U.S. plan could disrupt European stability and fuel a new Cold War-style arms race.

Moscow’s top brass say the missile shield does not pose any immediate military threat for Russia, but warn that Russia will have to develop new anti-missile technology to counter it.

Speaking at a news conference with Klaus, Putin compared the missile shield plan with the deployment of U.S. Pershing-2 missiles in Western Europe in the early 1980s, which triggered a bitter diplomatic crisis in the final years of the Cold War.

In Washington, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom H. Casey said the defense shield should not be seen as “altering the strategic balance or changing the fundamental nature of the relationship between Russia and the West.”

“I think there’s a tremendous difference between the situation in 2007 versus the situation in, say, 1987,” Casey told a daily briefing.

But the dispute over missile defense has strained already stormy relations between Moscow and Washington, with some officials talking of a new Cold War.

In a sign of growing tensions, Putin announced in a speech Thursday that Russia was freezing its commitments under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, a 1990 deal hammered among NATO and former Warsaw pact nations at the end of the Cold War to maintain the regional strategic balance.

”For the first time, elements of the U.S. strategic nuclear system are appearing on the European continent,“ Putin said on Friday. ”This element dramatically changes the security situation in Europe.

“We do not understand ... what is happening in Europe now that requires such aggressive actions,” Putin said. “We see no arguments for deploying the missile shield in Europe.”

European Commission President Manuel Barroso, visiting the United Nations in New York on Friday, criticized Putin’s stance.

“The announcement regarding CFE was disappointing and, in fact, it is sending a signal that is not the best signal, not the most helpful for the kind of relations that we in Europe want to have with Russia,” Barroso told reporters.

Additional reporting by Washington bureau, Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations

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