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NATO, Russian Rhetoric Heats Up Over Missile Defense Moves

The head of NATO on Saturday faulted Russia for its combative rhetoric and threats of new military deployments in response to the alliance's missile shield.

"We must refrain from threats against each other," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quoted by Stars and Stripes as saying at the Munich Security Conference. "The deployment of new offensive weapons has no place in a true strategic partnership."

Rasmussen rebuked Russia for its recent fielding of ballistic missiles in its western territory.

Late last year, the Russian military said it had fielded nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in the Western Military District -- an area that includes the Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave that borders NATO states Poland and Lithuania. Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly afterward said Iskander missiles were not being fielded in the Kaliningrad, though he left the door open on their possible future deployment if no resolution is reached with NATO over its missile defense ambitions.

The commander of the Western Military District last month announced his district would be receiving a brigade of Iskander M ballistic missiles later in the year, though he did not specify exactly where they would be fielded, Voice of Russia reported.

Moscow sees NATO's evolving missile shield as a threat to nuclear stability on the continent. The Kremlin repeatedly has demanded a binding pledge from the alliance that U.S. interceptors planned for fielding in Romania and Poland in the coming years will never be aimed at Russian strategic assets. Washington and NATO have responded with political assurances that the missile-defense system is focused on protecting against a possible attack from the Middle East.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discounted these assurances in remarks at the Munich forum.

"The military people realize missile defense is part of the strategic arsenal of the United States," Lavrov was quoted by Stars and Stripes as saying. "When a nuclear shield is added to a nuclear sword, it is very tempting to use this offensive, defense capability."

The U.S. deployment last week of a warship to its new home port in Rota, Spain, as an element of the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense appears to be sparking fresh Russian concerns.

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's security and disarmament department, Mikhail Ulyanov, on Saturday told Interfax that so long as the United States expands its missile defense capabilities, there can be no new arms control talks with Russia, ITAR-Tass reported.

He faulted the United States and NATO for continuing to develop their missile shield despite recent progress with Iran in negotiating an international agreement that would temporarily arrest some of its nuclear weapon-applicable activities.

If U.S. antimissile deployments in Europe are not halted, then Russia may choose to withdraw from the New START accord, Voice of Russia quoted the senior disarmament official as saying.

"We are concerned that the U.S. is continuing to build up missile defense capability without considering the interests and concerns of Russia," Ulyanov said. "Such a policy can undermine strategic stability and lead to a situation where Russia will be forced to exercise [its] right of withdrawal from the [New START] treaty."

Amid the post-Cold War posturing about missile defense, there are growing reports that Russia may be in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. U.S. officials last week updated NATO equivalents about the reputed ground-launched cruise missile, whose alleged ongoing testing could constitute a breach of the arms control treaty, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

The accord bars both Russia and the United States from developing, testing or stockpiling ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. While the Obama administration has confirmed raising its concerns over missile testing with Russia, it has not said exactly which weapon could be in breach of the ban on intermediate-range arms.

The weapon, according to some reports, could be the R-500 Iskander K -- a hypersonic cruise missile.

Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma international affairs committee, criticized the United States for raising treaty concerns at a time when "there are plenty of international issues that need our attention, such as Syria."

"I see no good reason for the Americans to raise this now," he said.

Vladimir Dvorking, an arms control analyst with a state-affiliated think tank in Moscow, told the Monitor it was too early to begin debating whether Russia is in violation of the intermediate-range forces accord.

"This might have something to do with all the tests going on in Russia's missile complex," Dvorking said. "But there is no final picture of how these new missiles will look, or how they will be used once they are deployed."

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