Putin: Russia Will Retaliate if US Puts Rocket Base in Europe

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Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country will aim its rockets at European targets if the United States goes ahead with plans to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

In an interview before his trip to the Group of Eight summit this week in Germany, Mr. Putin says Russia is not responsible for what he calls the "new arms race [that] is undoubtedly brewing in Europe." He brushed aside assurances that U.S. interceptor missiles will not be aimed at or intended to threaten Russia.

The Kremlin leader says the planned missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic will put "an integral part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal" on Russia's doorstep and upset the world strategic balance. In response, Mr. Putin says, Russia "naturally" will point its own nuclear weapons at U.S. military sites and other locations in Europe.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Russia said it would remove European targets from its rocket guidance systems.

Mr. Putin will be meeting directly with President Bush during the G-8 summit, which begins Wednesday. His comments about Russia's intention to retaliate against any U.S. missile base in Central Europe were made during an interview with journalists from some of the G-8 countries. The Kremlin released the interview text early Monday.

The United States says the missile defense system it wants to build - a battery of rockets in Poland, with a radar base in the Czech Republic - is meant to counter possible threats from nations such as Iran or North Korea. U.S. officials say the missiles will pose no danger to Russia or anyone else.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday on Russian television that Moscow is ready to hold talks with the United States about the missile defense system. - VOA News - Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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