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Russia Missile Tests Aimed At US ABM Plans In Europe

Photo courtesy AFP.
by Stefan Nicola
UPI Germany Correspondent
Berlin (UPI) May 30, 2007
Russian President Vladimir Putin has again lashed out at the West for provoking a new arms race on the day his country tested a massive new rocket that he said can overcome any missile defense system the United States may place in Eastern Europe. Putin has long bashed Washington for its plans to place 10 bunker-protected rockets in Eastern Europe, arguing it was a threat against Russian territory and provokes a new arms race.

At a joint news conference in Moscow Tuesday with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, Putin fired another round at the United States.

"We consider it harmful and dangerous to transform Europe into a powder keg and fill it with new forms of weapons," he said. "It creates new unnecessary risks for the entire system of international and European relations."

Yet on the same day, Russia tested its own new weapons system, a strategic RS-24 MIRV intercontinental missile launched from the northeastern Arkhangelsk region. The multiple-warhead missile hit its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Pacific more than 3,700 miles away, Moscow said.

Russia may now also more explicitly portray itself as a global military power to heave Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov into the top spot in the race for Putin's successor as Russian president, said Jan-Friedrich Kallmorgen, trans-Atlantic and security expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank.

On Tuesday after the successful test, Ivanov said the new missiles were immune to any missile defense system.

"These complexes are capable of overcoming all existing and future missile defense systems," Ivanov was quoted by the Russian Interfax agency. "That is why, from the point of view of defense and security, Russians can look into the future calmly."

Experts say the aggressive rhetoric by Moscow is not much more than a politically motivated muscle-flexing.

"It has been absolutely clear that the 10 planned rockets of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe would not impede Russia's capacity to launch inter-continental missiles, whether they are old or new," Kallmorgen told United Press International in a telephone interview Wednesday.

"Putin for weeks has turned up the heat in his rhetoric against the West," Kallmorgen added. "He knows that the Europeans are not united on Russia."

Relations between the European Union and Russia have strongly deteriorated in recent months; Putin at a recent EU-Russia summit in Samara clashed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds the rotating EU presidency, because Merkel criticized Moscow for democracy and human rights shortcomings.

Diplomatic rows with Poland, Estonia and Lithuania have only exacerbated EU-Russian ties, also because Poland -- where the U.S. missiles will be stationed -- and the Czech Republic -- where the radar system will be built -- are two former Warsaw Pact countries that have turned to the United States as their man strategic and security ally.

It's not that the West didn't make any mistakes dealing with Russia:

"Washington did not act smart to begin with," he said. "The issue was debated at the NATO-Russian council, but the Americans could have engaged in confidential talks with Moscow before going public with their plans."

On the other hand, Kallmorgen said, the United States after Russia's protests and Europe's criticism repeatedly made clear and strong offers to be integrated in the system, offers that were all denied. In the past weeks U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates have made trips to Moscow to lobby for the system -- without any success.

It is now in the hands of Europe to strike a balanced note when it comes to dealing with Russia, observers say. Given the strategic importance of Russia as the main energy provider to the EU, it is clear that Moscow won't be bullied into one-sided concessions. However, observers say the West needs a firm united stance when addressing Moscow on human rights and other issues; otherwise it might be the West being bullied.

Source: United Press International

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