‘Russia will cut weapon programmes if US drops missile shield’

December 20th, 2008 - 4:45 am ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Dec 20 (DPA) Russia will halt some strategic weapons programmes if the US drops plans for a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, a senior Russian general said Friday.Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russia’s strategic missile forces, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Washington could save Russia from the necessity of investing in retaliatory measures.

“And an array of programmes, expensive programmes, would simply become unnecessary for us,” Solovtsov said.

He gave no details of what weapons programmes could be cut, but analysts speculated that Russia could curtail its plans for the refurbishment of Russia’s nuclear missile arsenal and upgrades to its warheads to overcome the US shield.

The comments Friday built on Kremlin hopes that it could reach a compromise on the missile defence shield with president-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration.

They may also be an acknowledgement of the financial constraints faced by the Russian military amid the credit crisis and as it proposes other sweeping modernization of its armed forces.

Washington has so far failed to assuage Russian concerns that its deployment of a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland is not targetted at neutralizing Moscow’s nuclear deterrent.

President Dmitry Medvedev said last month Moscow would deploy Iskander missiles to its European exclave of Kaliningrad to counter the shield threat.

The announcement was viewed as an attempt to tip the deck ahead of fresh negotiations on missile defence with the new US administration.

Since then, Medvedev has softened his tone, renewing demands for the US to come forth with more compromise measures, such as allowing Russian officers access to the planned US bases.

US Senator Richard Lugar, a veteran US arms control negotiator in Moscow for talks this week, told a news conference Friday the Russian “idea for intrusive inspections has a great deal of validity” and was “worthy of significant discussion”.

Washington has insisted that its defence shield is necessary to protect against “rogue states” like Iran.

Obama, meanwhile, has yet to define clearly his position on whether he will continue to advance the project.

Lugar, who has worked closely with Obama on the US foreign relations committee, remained mum on the new administration’s position, but suggested there were grounds for compromise.

“Part of this trip is to see whether there are areas where we might make substantial progress,” he said.

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