The head of Russian strategic missile forces warned yesterday that Moscow could restart production of short and medium-range missiles on short notice, amid fears of a renewed arms race.
"If a political decision is taken on creating such a class of missiles, obviously Russia will build them quickly. We have everything needed to do this," said General Nikolai Solovtsov, quoted by Interfax.
The warning came amid mounting tensions with the US over Washington's plans to place missile defense facilities in two countries that were ruled from Moscow in Soviet times, the Czech Republic and Poland.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to withdraw from a Cold War-era arms treaty banning short and medium-range nuclear weapons, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Solovtsov stressed yesterday that Russia remained within the INF treaty.
"We act strictly in accordance with it," he said, adding that "when it comes to any class of missile it is expedient to put the question: Are they needed for Russia's security?"
On Thursday Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that Moscow remained concerned about Washington's missile defense plans despite new proposals by the US aimed at easing Russian concerns.
The US wants to place an early warning radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptors in Poland as part of an expanded missile defense system it says is not directed against Russia.
Washington insists the facilities are needed to protect against "rogue states," notably Iran, and would be useless against Russia's vast arsenal.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has gone almost as far as it will in accommodating Russian concerns, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
"I think we've gone pretty far," he said in an interview on Thursday on a return flight to Washington.
"I think we've leaned about as far forward as we can," he said. "We've offered a lot. And my view is, now I want to see some movement on their part."
US offers include an arrangement that would permit Russian officials to be present at major US missile defense sites to monitor their activities, possibly including at the proposed US sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Moscow strongly objects to the European sites, arguing that they are designed for an Iranian missile threat that does not exist.
Hoewver, Gates said he believes the Russians agree with Washington that Iran intends to continue advancing its ballistic missile program.