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Russia to axe some weapons if US abandons shield

Russia will stop developing some strategic weapons if the United States drops plans for a missile shield in Europe, Interfax news agency quoted the commander of Russia's strategic missile forces as saying.

The remarks may be another step in Moscow's efforts to build ties with the incoming US administration but also reflect difficulties Russia faces in financing its ambitious military programs at a time of global economic crisis.

“If Americans give up plans to deploy the third positioning region and other elements of the strategic missile defense system then certainly we will adequately respond to it,” Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov said.

“We will simply not need a number of expensive programs,” he added echoing earlier Kremlin overtures to the new US administration.

US plans to deploy in Europe elements of its projected missile shield, intended to avert potential strikes from Iran and North Korea, have been a factor in the deterioration of bilateral ties to the lowest point since the Cold War.

Russia says that US plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, described as the “third positioning region” are targeted against it.

President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia will deploy Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

Medvedev and his predecessor Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, have also said Russia was designing new weapons, including strategic rockets, capable of breaking through any missile defense in the next 30-50 years.

However Medvedev said last month he hoped US President-elect Barack Obama will review missile defense plans and vowed that Russia will not be the first with missile deployments.

Medvedev has made clear Russia may agree to something less than a full U-turn by Washington on the missile shield if the United States came out with solid confidence-building measures.

“Such measures cannot compensate a possible imbalance of forces, but they can ease tensions,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who oversees arms talks, told Interfax.

In the past few years, Russia's military budget has been growing by 30% a year. The modernization of strategic nuclear forces was one of the key elements in Moscow's efforts.

Russia has planned to replace aging Soviet-era missiles with the new generation of weapons, including RS-24 and Topol-M.

However, in the past months the Russian military have been actively conducting tests intended to verify whether the life span of the old missiles could be extended by at least 10 years.

Solovtsov said that the lifetime of the most powerful missile in the Russian arsenal --RS-20 known in the West as Satan - could be prolonged to 30 from the current 20 years.

Satans, designed in mid-1970s and deployed throughout 1980s to match the then US missile defense plan known as Star Wars, can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads. The Russian generals say it can safely break through the new US missile shield. (Reuters)