OW (AFP) - Russia on Wednesday warned the West that it could deploy missiles on the EU's borders to strike against missile defence facilities that the United States plans to install in eastern Europe.
President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia was prepared to deploy Iskander missiles, which officials said have a range of up to 500 kilometres (310 miles), in the Kaliningrad exclave that borders EU members Poland and Lithuania. Using rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War, he said the weapons systems might also be deployed in the south -- close to Russia's foe Georgia and NATO member Turkey -- and be used to eliminate the missile defence systems.
Romania and Poland have agreed to host part of a revamped US missile shield which Washington said is aimed solely at "rogue" states like Iran but Moscow believes would also target its own capability.
NATO member Turkey has decided to host an early warning radar at a military facility near Malatya in the southeast as part of the missile defence system.
If the West pressed ahead with the plans, "the Russian Federation will deploy in the west and the south of the country modern weapons systems that could be used to destroy the European component of the US missile defence."
"One of these steps could be the deployment of the Iskander missile systems in Kaliningrad," Medvedev said in a televised address. Medvedev ordered the Russian defence ministry to "immediately" put radar systems in Kaliningrad that warn of incoming missile attacks on a state of combat readiness.
He said that Russia's ballistic missiles would be given the capacity to overcome missile defence systems as well as "new highly effective warheads."
The dispute on missile defence has repeatedly been an obstacle to a "reset" in relations between Russia and the United States and Medvedev said it could impact disarmament cooperation with its ex-Cold War foe. "If the situation does not develop well, then Russia reserves the right to halt further steps in disarmament and the corresponding weapons controls," he said, speaking from his residence in front of the Russian flag. He also said the problem could lead to Russia quitting the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) for nuclear arms cuts with the United States that Medvedev signed with President Barack Obama in April 2010. "There could be a basis for our exit from START. This is allowed under the sense of the treaty itself," added Medvedev, whose address was broadcast in full on evening news bulletins.
Medvedev's hawkish comments came after he met Obama for talks on the sidelines of a summit in Hawaii earlier this month.
They also coincide with the run-up to legislative elections on December 4, where Medvedev is leading the list of the ruling United Russia party amid an apparent increase of nationalist sentiment in the country.
Liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, whose party is not registered to take part in the elections, told the Interfax news agency that Medvedev had performed the classic pre-poll trick of finding an external enemy.
"They just forgot that the arms race led to the collapse of the Soviet Union," he said.
The missile warning has come just as current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- whom analysts see taking a tougher line on foreign and military policy than Medvedev -- prepares to return to the presidency in 2012 polls.
Medvedev took over from his mentor Putin as president in 2008 and along with Obama moved to warm US-Russia relations that had gone into a deep chill during the presidencies of Putin and George W. Bush.
The Interfax news agency said that the range of the Iskander missiles is 280 kilometres but Russian officials have said in the past they could hit targets at a distance of up to 500 kilometres.
Kaliningrad is part of the former German East Prussia region that was annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II and remains one of Moscow's prime territorial strategic assets.