Missile shield ups chance of atomic conflict: Putin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Europe increased the chances of a nuclear conflict.

Moscow is alarmed by U.S. plans to deploy parts of a global missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and last week it tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile it said could ensure the country’s security for the next 40 years.

“The missile shield only creates the theoretical illusion that one is protected, but the possibility that a nuclear conflict is unleashed is actually greater,” Putin told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine in an interview to be published on Sunday.

Washington says it wants to avert attacks from “rogue states” such as Iran, which the West suspects of wanting to get an atomic bomb, but Russia sees a threat to its own security.

“The strategic balance in the West is disturbed,” said Putin, adding Russia had to create a system to counter U.S. weapons.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosts a summit of leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations next week, told Der Spiegel the U.S. systems were not directed against Russia but that Moscow should be involved in the project.

“For me, involved means not only that you are informed but that you cooperate,” she said.

“You could, for example, try to make some technical components together, you could carry out tests very transparently and exchange data.”

Merkel also said the G8 summit would address another point of contention between the West and Russia -- Kosovo.

Serbia, backed by Russia, opposes a plan proposed by U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari and supported by Western powers which offers Kosovo independence under international supervision.

“We must establish what room for maneuver there still is,” said Merkel.

“We need to make a decision soon,” she said, adding that no conclusion would be reached at the summit.