Russian plans to deploy missiles in an enclave next to Poland have not been shelved, the country's top general said Monday, contradicting a comment made by a government official last week after the US announced it was dropping a plan to place land-based missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.
US President Barack Obama's decision was received positively by Russia, which is sensitive to US moves it sees as upsetting the post-Cold War balance of power, especially in countries formerly belonging to the Soviet bloc. Moscow even threatened to place Iskander short-range offensive missiles near Poland if the US proceeded with its plan.
On Saturday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview that "naturally we will scrap the measures that Russia planned to take" in response to the US shield, specifically mentioning the deployment of Iskanders as one of the measures Russia had been planning.
But when asked about the matter on Monday, Russian chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov was quoted by Reuters as saying, "There has been no such decision. It should be a political decision. It should be made by the president."
Speaking to reporters on a plane from Moscow to Zurich, Makarov said, "[The Americans] have not given up the anti-missile shield; they have replaced it with a sea-based component."
The general was accompanying Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on a trip to Switzerland.
It was not immediately clear why Makarov contradicted Popovkin, but some sources suggested he might have wanted to emphasize that an important decision on defense matters could only be made by the president and should not be announced by a deputy minister.
The US has continually insisted that placing the system in Eastern Europe was intended to protect European countries from Iranian missiles and would not threaten Russia.
Last week, the administration defended its decision to scrap the plan and opt for a sea-based platform of smaller anti-missile systems atop US Navy craft, saying the threat from Iran was mainly in its short- and medium-range capabilities.
However, critics of the administration said dropping the plan initiated by Obama's predecessor George W. Bush was a sign of weakness toward Russia.