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September 22, 2009

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General says Russia's missile plans have not been scrapped

RUSSIA'S top general said yesterday that plans to deploy missiles in an enclave next to Poland have not been shelved, despite a decision by the United States to rethink plans for missile defence in Europe.

But a former Russian diplomatic negotiator indicated he thought the deployments in Kaliningrad region, bordering Poland, unlikely to go ahead. Alternative US proposals for sea-based defences appeared less likely to raise Kremlin objections.

President Barack Obama's decision to scrap a land-based missile defence system has been welcomed by Russia, which had threatened to deploy short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if the US refused to drop the plans.

The Kremlin always said Russia would only deploy the missiles as a counter-measure if Washington went ahead with its missile shield. Moscow said the shield threatened its national security and would upset the strategic balance in Europe.

On Saturday Russian deputy defence minister Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview that "naturally we will scrap the measures that Russia planned to take" in response to the shield and specifically named Iskander deployment as one of them.

But when asked about the matter yesterday, the chief of Russia's general staff, Nikolai Makarov, said: "There has been no such decision. It should be a political decision. It should be made by the president.

"They have not given up the anti-missile shield. They have replaced it with a sea-based component," Makarov told reporters on a plane from Moscow to Zurich.

The general was accompanying President Dmitry Medvedev on a trip to Switzerland.

It is highly unusual in Russia for two senior officials to contradict each other publicly on a sensitive matter of national and international importance. It was not immediately clear why Makarov had done so, though some sources suggested the general might have wanted to emphasise that such an important decision should not be announced by a deputy minister.

Former Russian diplomatic negotiator Roland Timerbayev of the Centre for Political Studies Russia said clarity on Russia's position would come after Medvedev meets Obama in New York on Wednesday.

"There's a diplomatic game going on," said Timerbayev.


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