Russia plays down threat of planned US missile defence


RUSSIA: Russia said yesterday it was not considering retaliation against US plans for an anti-missile shield, as Moscow marked in muted fashion the demise of a landmark arms control accord with Washington.

"The (US) missile defence system as yet has only a virtual, not a real, existence. Therefore, there are no grounds for talking about retaliatory measures," Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Defence Minister, Mr Sergei Ivanov, as saying.

The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which forbade the sort of national missile defence planned by President Bush, expired on Thursday, six months after Mr Bush gave notice that Washington planned to quit the accord.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has said it was a mistake to abandon a treaty that had guaranteed strategic stability for 30 years, a view repeated by Mr Ivanov yesterday.

Nevertheless, Mr Putin and Mr Bush last month signed a new arms treaty under which each side will slash their deployed nuclear warheads by two-thirds by 2012.

The so-called Treaty of Moscow surpasses cuts provided for in the now-redundant START-2 arms treaty of 1993, which would have forced Russia to scrap missiles with multiple warheads.

This treaty requires ratification by both the US Congress and the Russian parliament, but deputies in the state Duma (lower house) signalled yesterday that it was likely to have a smooth passage.

They voted unanimously in support of a resolution which said the Treaty of Moscow did not impose any restrictions on the development of Russia's strategic nuclear force and would allow it to carry out modernisation plans for its strategic defences.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Russia no longer felt bound by START-2, following the US decision to abandon the ABM treaty.

Russian defence officials say Russia will now extend the service life of some strategic missiles equipped with multiple warheads, which had been due to be taken out of service. They say Russia's new generation of Topol-M missile can defeat any missile defence system envisaged by the US, a claim the US says shows its limited shield will prove no threat to Russia's deterrent.