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Russia draws 'red line' on Kosovo, US missile defence

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Sept 3, 2007
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov underlined Russia's increasingly muscular foreign policy Monday, laying out a series of non-negotiable "red line" issues including Kosovo and US missile defence.

"There are so-called 'red line' issues for Russia," Lavrov said in a speech to students at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. "There we cannot fail to react and we must stick to our position to the end."

Lavrov specified Kosovo -- where Russia opposes Western proposals to grant the province independence from Serbia -- and opposition to US missile defence plans for Central Europe as areas where Moscow would not "horse-trade."

His comments were the latest sign of hawkish Russian opposition to key areas of US foreign policy under President Vladimir Putin, who is using massive oil and gas revenues to rebuild Russia's military and restore its diplomatic clout.

Lavrov said some were worried by "the rapid rebirth of our country as one of the leading countries of the world ... However, this does not mean that it's necessary to think up yet another myth about the Russian threat."

He also used his speech -- an annual occasion marking the start of the academic year at Russia's most prestigious international affairs institute -- to attack a probe by key US ally Britain into the murder of fugitive Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

Lavrov dismissed attempts to extradite a KGB veteran over the radiation poisoning in London last year as "a noisy propaganda show."

"Great Britain has become a voluntary, or involuntary actor in a provocation against Russia," Lavrov said.

The Kremlin has already shown itself ready to play hardball on Kosovo and missile defence.

Russian officials have threatened that Moscow could recognise the independence of separatist areas in Georgia, a Western ally south of Russia, should Kosovo be allowed to become independent without Serbian agreement.

Washington has also taken a tough line on Kosovo, suggesting it could unilaterally recognise independence for the province if the United Nations fails to do so.

Lavrov's inclusion of missile defence as a "red line" issue added to a deepening diplomatic row over Washington's wish to deploy a missile-tracking radar in the Czech Republic and anti-missile rockets in Poland.

Russia says the system is aimed at its own massive nuclear force. Washington insists the target is smaller "rogue state" military powers posing a potential threat to Europe, such as Iran or North Korea.

Putin, who took office in 2000 and is to step down next year at the end of his second term, has presided over rapid economic growth, mostly thanks to the country's massive hydrocarbon output and high energy prices on world markets.

He has also enacted wide-ranging political reforms concentrating power in the Kremlin and restoring state control over much of the media.

Lavrov said "the world needs a capable Russia" and that the West should take care to avoid provoking confrontation.

"There is no need to hurry and take decisions that lead to a confrontational character..., whether this is anti-missile defence, Kosovo, or the further expansion of NATO," he said.

Lavrov's speech came as 12 Russian strategic bomber planes began a two-day exercise over Russia's Arctic north that will include the firing of cruise missiles, the air force said.

The Tu-95MC bombers are carrying out "tactical" exercises in the north of Russia including the Arctic Circle and will conduct "tactical launches of cruise missiles," the air force said in a statement.

Last month Putin announced that Russia was permanently resuming the Soviet-era practice of long-range bomber patrols -- frozen in 1992 due to lack of money -- far from Russian territory, adding to US-Russian tensions.

related report
Czech villages near US radar to be offered compensation
Prague (AFP) Sept 3 - The Czech government will offer financial compensation to villages around the site of a controversial planned US radar site, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said on Monday.

The government budget allowed "the allocation of funds for the development of the Brdy region," Topolanek said, the locality around 70 kilometres (50 miles) west of Prague where the US installation will be sited.

But it remains to be seen if this will pacify locals who have overwhelmingly rejected the US plans in a series of a referendums, with some mayors saying they will refuse to be bought out.

Topolanek and some of his ministers were due to meet mayors from villages bordering the proposed missile site following a cabinet meeting at the central Czech town of Spalene Porici on Wednesday.

Details on the compensation will be given on the same day, Topolanek told a news conference.

Washington wants the radar, twinned with interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland, to boost the defence of the US and its allies against attack from "rogue" states such as Iran.

A fresh round of talks between Czech and US negotiators over the radar base will also take place in Prague on Wednesday and be reconvened a week later on September 11 and 12, the US embassy told AFP.

One of the biggest issues for Prague is what access it will be given to the information gleaned by the radar, a top foreign ministry official said in August.

The US proposal to develop its anti-missile defences in two former Soviet-bloc countries has met with opposition from most Czechs and sparked hostility from Moscow and rifts between European countries.

Source: Agence France-Presse
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China promises more military transparency
Beijing (AFP) Sept 2, 2007
China said Sunday it will begin reporting its armed forces budget to the United Nations and rejoin a global register of conventional arms amid foreign pressure for greater military transparency.

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