Russia-US Row Deepens Over US Missile Defense Expansion

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Moscow ( - A diplomatic wrangle between Russia and the United States deepened Friday after a senior American general was quoted as saying the U.S. would like to deploy an anti-missile radar facility in the Caucasus.

"Let them deploy [a radar]," the Russian Air Force commander Vladimir Mikhailov said Friday. "We have everything necessary for an adequate response."

Mikhailov said deploying an anti-missile radar system in the Caucasus would not affect Russia's defense capabilities, but the country would nonetheless have to respond.

Mikhailov's statement came after Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said at NATO headquarters in Brussels Thursday that the U.S. "would like to place a radar in ... the Caucasus."

He declined to identify a country where the radar could be installed, but noted that "it would be very useful for the anti-missile system.''

The U.S. and Russia are already at odds over Pentagon plans to locate anti-missile defense shield facilities in two former members of the defunct Warsaw Pact - Poland and the Czech Republic - which are now in NATO.

The U.S. said the ballistic missile umbrella is designed to defend against missiles launched by rogue states like Iran and North Korea, but Russia and China are opposed to the plan, arguing that the system aims to undermine their nuclear deterrents.

Vladimir Pekhtin, deputy speaker of Russia's State Duma, said the plan to deploy an anti-missile radar in the Caucasus is part of an increased American military build-up near Russian borders.

The moves would not improve the partnership between Moscow and Washington, Pekhtin told journalists in Moscow Friday.

The Caucasus - primarily Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia - lie on Russia's south-western flank, between Russia and Turkey and Russia and Iran.

"The Americans are most likely to deploy the radars in Georgia or Azerbaijan," former Russian Air Force commander Anatoly Kornukov said Friday. Those countries could become potential targets for Iranian missiles, he added.

Politically, the most convenient territory for the deployment would be Georgia, said Leonid Ivashov, deputy head of the Geopolitical Problems Academy, a Moscow-based think-tank.

Officials in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia reportedly announced that Washington had not yet approached their government with any proposals.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko warned Thursday that the planned U.S. missile elements in Poland and the Czech Republic may not pose a deterrent at all, but instead provoke "problem countries."

Those countries "could be forced to consider all scenarios," including possible missile strikes against the U.S., Grushko said.

The Kremlin was also upset this week by a top U.S. intelligence official's accusation that Russia was backsliding on democracy.

Mike McConnell, the newly installed director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that Russia was taking a step backwards.

McConnell said that President Vladimir Putin had become surrounded by "extremely conservative" advisers who are suspicious of the U.S.

In response, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov called McConnell views "groundless" and "absolutely contrary to the character and state of Russia-U.S. relations."

Senior lawmaker Mikhail Marguelov, head of the Federation Council's international affairs committee, dismissed McConnell's statement as an attempt to secure more funding from senators.

Russia has no ideological differences with the U.S., Marguelov said Thursday and ruled out any possibility of a revived Cold War.

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