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Russia on Friday harshly criticized US plans to build missile defense sites in central Europe, shrugging off US assurances that the installations would be meant to deal with a potential threat from Iran and calling them an effort to strengthen America's military might in the region.
A statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin provided a detailed account of Russia's opposition to US proposals to establish elements of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic - former Soviet satellites that are now NATO members.
"We believe that plans for the creation of a US missile defense in Europe are a mistaken step with negative consequences for international security," Kamynin said. He suggested Russia could seek to prevent it from happening through talks, saying it would be "a subject of serious analysis and discussion with the United States and its partners."
Placing US sites in the region "cannot be seen other than as a significant reconfiguration the American military presence in Europe," Kamynin said. Despite US insistence that the plans pose no threat to Russia, he said that "we cannot fail to see the fact of a consistent imparting of a strategic component to American military forces in this region."
Kamynin echoed warnings by military officials that Moscow could take unspecified steps in response, saying that "such a base near our borders" would be a factor for Russia in plotting its military development and military ties with other nations.
A senior US Defense official said Thursday that the proposed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic would not affect Russian security but will be designed to intercept missiles planned by Iran that would be capable of reaching Eastern Europe. Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering rejected Russian claims that the US plan would upset the security balance, saying their scope would be insignificant compared with Russian capabilities.
Russian opposition to the US plans reflects persistent wariness about growing US clout - both military and political - in former Warsaw Pact nations that have joined Cold War foe NATO and the European Union and ex-Soviet republics that are turning Westward.
While Russia and the United States say they are working together to fight terrorism and weapons proliferation, Kamynin's statement also underscored the rift between the approaches of the two nations on the issue, specifically when it comes to Iran.
He said Russia believes that there are "more optimal" ways of dealing with the threat of the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles or other means of their conveyance, "primarily based on working out multilateral political approaches."