Russia to counter U.S. missile defense system in Europe

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Loiko is a Times staff writer.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that Moscow would place short-range missiles near the Polish border “to neutralize, if necessary” a planned U.S. antimissile system.

In his first state of the nation speech, Medvedev also said plans to take three nuclear missile regiments off combat duty in Kozelsk would be suspended and that Moscow would attempt to use radio jamming against the U.S. system.

In August, Poland signed a deal that would base 10 U.S. interceptor missiles on its territory. The accompanying radar system would be placed in the adjacent Czech Republic. Both former Soviet satellites are now part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


Washington has always maintained that the system is insurance against a possible missile launch by countries such as Iran, but Moscow believes it could be used to weaken Russia.

“Given what we have had to face in recent years -- the construction of the global ABM [antiballistic missile] system, the encirclement of Russia with military bases, the unbridled expansion of NATO and other gifts to Russia -- a solid impression is forming, that they are simply testing our patience,” Medvedev said.

In a phone interview, Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute for Strategic Assessment think tank, played down Medvedev’s comments. He said that the nuclear missiles in Kozelsk were old and were being kept in place only because a new type of missile to replace them was not being manufactured quickly enough. He also thought radio jamming of the antimissile system was not very feasible.

He also took issue with the threat to place missiles near Poland.

“The deployment of an Iskander missile complex in the Kaliningrad region also sounds pretty pointless,” he said, “because first of all these are tactical missiles and they have not been produced in sufficient numbers yet. Secondly, their working radius is 280 km [174 miles], which is very small. And thirdly, they can carry only 500 kilos [1,102 pounds] of ordinary explosives, which most likely will not be enough to destroy an interceptor missile shaft.”

Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute think tank, said he did not believe that the Russian president was seeking to increase tensions with the U.S. “The speech was clearly prepared for domestic consumption,” he said.

Medvedev made similar comments in his address: “Let me stress that we don’t have problems with the American people. We don’t have an inborn anti-Americanism. And we hope that our partners, the new U.S. administration, will make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia.”