MOSCOW (AFP): Russia issued a veiled threat on Wednesday to deploy rockets in its Kaliningrad region bordering the European Union if the United States built a missile defence shield in central Europe.
Moscow and Washington are locked in a standoff over the US plans for a radar station in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland.
Russia says the plans threaten its security.
The threat to put missiles in Kaliningrad was made by the influential First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov only two days after President Vladimir Putin again raised the missile shield dispute with US President George W. Bush.
Putin has suggested to Bush that the United States use a Russian-controlled radar in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, near the Iranian border, instead of having a shield in central Europe.
Putin has also offered the use of another radar under construction at Armavir in southern Russia.
“If our offers are accepted, Russia will not consider it necessary to deploy new rocket units in the European part of the country, including Kaliningrad, to counter the threat” from the United States, Ivanov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
Ivanov, who was on a visit to Uzbekistan, said Russia had “found an asymmetrical and effective response” to the US project for a European shield.
“We know what we're doing…. If our proposals are not accepted, we will take adequate measures,” Ivanov said.
Washington insists that its proposed missile shield is intended to guard against possible attack from “rogue states” such as Iran. Moscow believes the systems are directed against Russia.
On Friday Ivanov stressed Russia's readiness to pool information with the United States gained from its radar facilities and said Moscow would be ready to update the radar in Azerbaijan if necessary.
“Today there is no better station for locating rockets, including cruise missiles…. If a question arises about modernising the station, we will do it,” he said.
Ivanov's comments suggested that tensions remain high despite efforts to calm the atmosphere at a meeting between Putin and Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine this week.
Putin has already suggested that Russia could point its missiles at European targets if the US plans go ahead.
Kaliningrad, which Russia won at the end of World War II, lies on the Baltic Sea separated from the rest of Russia by EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania.
The territory gives Russia extra influence in the Baltic region, being home to the navy's Baltic Fleet, although Russia has officially declared it a nuclear-free zone, a press official at the defence ministry confirmed to AFP.
Analysts in Moscow said that Russia currently lacks missiles suitable for firing from Kaliningrad to hit Poland.
Moscow scrapped its medium-range arsenal under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Its planned Iskander short-range missile has become bogged down due to manufacturing problems, said Alexander Konovalov of the Institute for Strategic Assessments.
Kaliningrad in any case would be an unsuitable site for such missiles as its location makes it vulnerable, he said.
“I'm extremely sceptical that Russia is ready to produce the Iskander system quickly. Not all components of the system are ready to be produced seriously,” Konovalov said. “It would be stupid to deploy them in this easily accessible enclave.”
Independent defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer agreed.
“It's a threat aimed at the Polish people” designed to encourage them to protest against the US plans. “It's an empty threat,” he said.