MOSCOW - Russia will arm itself with missiles capable of foiling a U.S. shield in Europe and may deploy additional weapons in its west and south to counteract the system the United States is building with NATO allies, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday.
Targeting the West in tough talk two weeks before a parliamentary election that could influence his political future, Medvedev outlined a series of steps in response to U.S. and NATO plans to deploy a European missile shield by 2020.
At the same time, Medvedev emphasised that Russia would continue talks aimed at turning decades of confrontation over missile defence into cooperation, a signal that the measures he described may be negotiating tactics.
Medvedev said Russia would begin operating an early-warning radar in Kaliningrad, an enclave separated from the rest of the country by NATO states, to improve protection of its nuclear missile installations and deploy long-range weapons able to overcome an anti-missile shield.
"I have given the armed forces the task of developing measures providing, if necessary, for the destruction of missile defence information and guidance system components," Medvedev said in a recorded televised address.
If further actions were needed, he said, Russia would deploy in its western and southern regions weapons capable of destroying missile defence facilities, including placing Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania.
U.S. anti-missile plans have clouded relations with Russia since President Ronald Reagan dreamed of a "Star Wars" shield in the 1980s.
President Barack Obama pleased Moscow by scrapping his predecessor's plans for long-range missile interceptors based in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, but is now struggling with Russian opposition to the new plan.
The United States says the system, due to be fully deployed by 2020 with interceptor missiles and radars at sea and in several European countries, is needed to counter potential threats from nations such as Iran.
But Medvedev said the United States and NATO had not dispelled the Kremlin's concern that it could upset weakened Russia by gaining the capability to shoot down the nuclear missiles it has relied on for security since the Cold War.
"They do not intend, at least today, to take our concerns into account at this stage," Medvedev said.
"We won't agree to participate in a programme that in a fairly short time -- five, six, maybe eight years -- is capable of weakening our deterrent potential, and that is precisely the missile defence programme that is beginning to be implemented."
Medvedev reiterated Russia's call for a legally binding guarantee that the missile shield would not threaten Russia -- a non-starter in Washington because of strong opposition to any limits on U.S. missile defences.
He added, however, that Russia would "of course" continue talks and said Moscow "has the political will to reach the necessary agreements, which could open up a fundamentally new page in our relations with the United States and NATO."
"We have a direct order from the president to continue consultations until the U.S. passes the point of no return," Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, told a news conference shortly after Medvedev's statement.
NATO welcomed the promise to keep talking. "Threats to deploy missiles in the immediate vicinity of NATO Allies are not helpful," spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.
"However, we welcome the fact that President Medvedev stressed once again that Russia is not closing the door for continuing the dialogue with the U.S. and NATO on missile defence and is prepared for practical cooperation in this area."
Some analysts in both countries say Russia's portrayal of the missile defence plans as a threat is seriously overblown.
They say Moscow will use its opposition to the current U.S. blueprint as a bargaining chip in any talks on further reductions of nuclear weapons -- one of Obama's goals -- or conventional forces in Europe.
Russia and the United States appear unlikely to reach agreement on missile defence cooperation before elections in both countries next year, partly because of uncertainty over whether Obama will win a second term.
Russia's utterances are also aimed at a domestic audience before a Dec. 4 parliamentary election and presidential vote in March which is expected to return Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.
Talk of a military buildup will please Russia's sprawling arms industry, which has lost contracts in the Arab world with the downfall of longstanding governments and in Iran after new U.N. sanctions were adopted last year.
Putin has tasked Medvedev with leading his United Russia party into the parliamentary election and has hinted that a poor performance might make him think twice about naming Medvedev as prime minister after the vote.
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