Russia threatens to target US missile shield with nukes
Russia has threatened to target two proposed American bases in Europe with its nuclear missiles if the Pentagon pressed ahead with its plans for a missile defence shield
In an escalation of the Cold War-style threats favoured by President Vladimir Putin, the general in charge of Russia's ballistic arsenal said that he could target the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic that will host the missile-interceptor shield if America insists on building them.
"I do not exclude the missile-defence shield sites in Poland and the Czech Republic being chosen as targets for some of our intercontinental ballistic missiles," said Gen Nikolai Solovtsov.
America insists that its new shield will carry only a few missiles, designed to intercept warheads fired from rogue states, such as Iran.
But Gen Solovtsov dismissed that concept as a lie, claiming that America was determined to surround Russia with its military might.
"If the Americans signed a treaty with us that they would only deploy 10 anti-missile rockets in Poland and one radar in the Czech Republic and will never put anything else there, then we could deal with this," he said. "However they won't sign, they just tell us verbally, 'We won't threaten you'."
He said that believing such verbal assurances in the past had seen Russia encircled by the Western military alliance, Nato.
"Verbally they already told us that when we re-unite Germany there won't be one Nato soldier there. Now where are they?," he said. "They already cheated Russia once."
Gen Solovtsov's remarks follow a year of increasingly bombastic comments about the proposed missile shield.
Moscow separately said that a shipment of Russian nuclear fuel had arrived in Iran, which the Bush administration suspects is seeking to develop an atomic weapons programme under the cover of civilian energy production.
The delivery of enriched uranium was made to Bushehr power station, which is being built by a Russian company and is expected to start producing electricity within six months.
President George W Bush said that "if the Iranians accept uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there's no need for them to learn how to enrich".
Any suggestion that Iran is attempting to further enrich the uranium it has received in order to make it weapons-grade could trigger a military response from the US or Israel.
America and Britain are already pushing for a new round of sanctions against Teheran at the United Nations Security Council, despite a recent US intelligence report that suggested that Iran's nuclear weapons research might have been mothballed.
The heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow looked unlikely to subside soon as Mr Putin said that he was ready to become prime minister when he steps down as president ahead of elections in March.
The job will allow him to continue exerting enormous public influence under the rule of his near-certain successor, Dmitry Medvedev. It would also give him the platform to run as president again in 2012.
"If the citizens of Russia trust Dmitry Medvedev and elect him the country's president I will be ready to chair the government," Mr Putin said at a conference of the ruling United Russia party.
In two terms as president Mr Putin has led a resource-rich Russia from post-communist weakness back to the heart of global affairs through a sometimes confrontational approach