London (PTI): In what appeared to be a fresh attempt to divide the West, Russia has threatened to deploy short-range nuclear missiles in Belarus on the European Union border if America goes ahead with its plan to erect a missile defence shield. Senior Army Gen Vladimir Zaritsky said that Moscow could site Iskander nuclear missiles in neighbouring ally Belarus if "the United States refuses to abandon its plan to place ten interceptor missiles and a radar in Poland and the Czech Republic", 'The Daily Telegraph' reported on Thursday.
"Any action meets a counter-action, and this is the case with elements of the US missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic," Gen Zaritsky, the Chief of Artillery and Rocket Forces for Russia's ground troops, was quoted by the British daily as saying. The Iskander missile has a range of 190 miles, although a new version with a 310-mile range is due to enter production in 2009.
However, NATO has brushed off Russia's threats. "Any discussion of targeting Western Europe with missiles, from any party, is a) anachronistic; b) unwelcome and c) unhelpful," a spokesperson in Brussels, James Appathurai, was quoted by the daily as saying.
Washington insists that the missile defence shield in Europe is aimed not at Russia but at states such as Iran which it accuses of seeking to develop nuclear weapons that could one day strike the West.
But, it may be mentioned that President Vladimir Putin had recently said that Russia could pull out of a Cold War treaty forbidding it from building intermediate-range nuke missiles capable of hitting Europe.
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