LONDON/MOSCOW - Russia's military chief of staff said on Thursday that Moscow could carry out pre-emptive strikes on future NATO missile defense installations in Europe to protect its security - a stark warning against a system the Kremlin sees as a threat.
Russian General Nikolai Makarov's remark underlined Russian opposition to an anti-missile shield the United States and NATO are developing, an issue that will continue to strain relations after Vladimir Putin starts a six-year presidential term on Monday.
Makarov spoke at a conference where testy exchanges between the Russian hosts and US and NATO officials pointed up the distance the old Cold War foes still have to go for a deal to cooperate on missile defense, an arrangement both say they want.
Washington says the missile defence system, due to be completed in four phases by about 2020 and including interceptor missiles based in Poland and Romania, is meant to counter a potential threat from Iran and presents no risk to Russia.
But a mistrustful Moscow says the West will gain the ability to shoot down Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in a few years, weakening Russia's nuclear deterrent.