Russia May Deploy Missiles in Belarus
MOSCOW (AP) – A senior general warned Wednesday that Russia could deploy short-range missiles to Belarus as part of efforts to counter the planned deployment of U.S. missile defense sites in Europe, Russian news reports said.
Col.-Gen. Vladimir Zaritsky, the chief of artillery and rocket forces for the Russian Ground Troops, said that “any action meets a counteraction, and this is the case with elements of the U.S. missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The U.S. plan would install a radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland—both former Soviet satellites that are now NATO members. It is part of a wider missile shield involving defenses in California and Alaska that the United States says are to defend against any long-range missile attack from countries such as North Korea or Iran.
Russia strongly opposes the idea, saying Iran is decades away from developing missile technology that could threaten Europe or North America, and it says the U.S. bases will undermine Russia’s own missile deterrent force.
President Vladimir Putin and other officials have warned that Russia could target the planned U.S. defense sites in Europe with its missiles.
Zaritsky was responding to his Belarusian counterpart who said that Russia could provide Belarus with its new short-range Iskander missiles. “Why not? Given adequate conditions and an adequate Belarusian opposition,” Zaritsky said.
The Iskander is believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, a pariah in the West for his relentless crackdown on dissent and free media, has relied on Russia’s support and the two nations have developed close political and military ties.
Iskander’s current version has a range of 190 miles; a new version equipped with cruise missiles capable of striking targets at a distance of 310 miles has been tested earlier this year, ITAR-Tass said. Zaritsky said the upgraded version would become operational in 2009.
The deployment of Iskander missiles in Belarus, which borders Poland, would likely put planned U.S. missile defenses there within range; a site in the Czech Republic would likely be out of reach.
Russian news reports also quoted Zaritsky as saying that Iskander’s range could be extended beyond 310 miles if Moscow decides to opt out of a Cold War-era treaty that banned intermediate-range missiles.
Putin and other officials have warned that Russia could pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a landmark document signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in 1987 that banned the entire class of medium-range missiles.
“Iskander complies fully with conditions of the INF Treaty, but if a political decision is made to withdraw from the treaty, we will improve its capability, including range,” Zaritsky said. “Whatever the Motherland has to say.”
The statements from Zaritsky follows the Russian parliament’s vote last week to suspend Moscow’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, a key arms control treaty limiting the deployment of tank, aircraft and other heavy conventional weapons across the continent.
Putin announced the intention to halt its obligations under the treaty pointing at NATO’s failure to ratify its amended version.
The legislation still needs approval in the upper house, which is a virtual certainty, before it goes to Putin for his signature. It would take effect Dec. 12.
Tensions over the U.S. missile defense plans and arms control agreements have strained Russia’s ties with the West, drawing comparisons with Cold War times.
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