Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday visited a missile warning radar station that he called the initial installation in a program to strengthen the country's air defenses.
The station at Lekhtusi, near St. Petersburg, is a so-called Voronezh-type installation. Unlike older stations with large, permanent buildings constructed on-site, much of the station's equipment and structures were fabricated elsewhere.
First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said the station was built in about 18 months, compared with the five to nine years that construction of previous stations has required, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The station, which went into test operation late last year, is "the first step in a major program in this field" that is to last until 2015, Putin said.
He did not elaborate on the program. A similar installation is under construction in Armavir in southern Russia. The Lekhtusi station reportedly can monitor an area stretching from the North Pole to southern Africa.
The visit and Putin's statement comes amid tensions between the US and Russia over Washington's plans to deploy elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia vehemently objects to the plans, saying they would undermine the balance of strategic power in Europe because the installations could be used against Russian missiles.
Russian officials have also threatened to retarget the country's missiles toward Europe to counter the proposed missile defense installations.
The US in turn contends that the system is aimed only at preventing possible missile attacks by countries such as Iran and North Korea.
Russia has proposed a compromise to the dispute under which the US would share the use of a Russian-leased radar installation in Azerbaijan and the under-construction Armavir station.
Meanwhile, Russia's air force chief Alexander Zelin said on Saturday that Russian bombers will continue their "scheduled" flights over neutral waters, days after such planes flew near a US Pacific naval base.
"Long-range bombers will continue their flights," he told journalists according to the Interfax-AVN news agency, adding that the flight paths were decided in advance.
Two Russian TU-95 Bear strategic bombers approached a major US naval exercise near Guam on Wednesday, although the Pentagon said that they did not come close enough to warrant an air-to-air interception.
US military encounters with long-range Russian aircraft over the Pacific and North Atlantic were common during the Cold War, but have been a rarity since.