MOSCOW (AFP) – The Russian army’s chief of staff accused the West on Saturday of playing politics with European arms control and warned that the launch of US interceptor missiles could trigger a Russian missile strike.
“Western states have deliberately turned an agreement on European arms control into an instrument to achieve political aims” against Russia, Yury Baluyevksy said at a press conference broadcast on state television.
Russia on December 12 walked away from the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, a key Cold War agreement that limits the stationing of troops and heavy weapons from the Atlantic coast to Russia’s Ural mountains.
Baluyevsky criticised the NATO alliance’s eastward expansion to the Russian border but said Russia had “no plans for massing troops” despite now having the freedom to do so after suspending its adherence to the treaty.
Russia said it pulled out of the CFE because of the failure of 26 NATO members to ratify the revised 1999 version of the treaty.
NATO countries have said they will only ratify if Moscow lives up to a pledge to pull its troops out of former Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova.
Russia’s decision on the CFE treaty has raised a storm of protest from Western governments, with NATO calling the move “deplorable” and the US State Department saying Russia was “wrong.”
Baluyevsky also criticised US plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic as part of a missile defence shield aimed, Washington says, at guarding against a potential missile threat from Iran.
US offers made to Russia in negotiations over the missile defence shield were “unacceptable” and the US plans could not be interpreted in any other way than as being aimed against Russia, Baluyevsky said.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak reinforced that message at the press conference, saying that results of US-Russia consultations over the shield had been “disappointing.”
“We will continue this diplomatic work and we will think about what we need to do in order to protect Russia’s security under any scenario in which the situation may develop,” Kislyak said.
Baluyevsky also warned that the launch of an interceptor missile by the United States could trigger a Russian missile strike because it could be mistaken for a ballistic missile aimed at Russia.
“We are talking about the possibility of a retaliatory strike being triggered by the mistaken classification of an interceptor missile launch,” he said, adding that Russia’s defences were controlled by an automatic system.
“If we assume that Iran does try to launch a missile against the United States… then interceptor missiles from Poland would fly in the direction of Russia,” he continued.
“I don’t mean to scare anyone but this isn’t a scare story…. It’s a technical detail that could affect the military stability of the world,” Baluyevsky said.
The Czech foreign ministry on Saturday called the comments “unimaginable”.
“The language from Russian generals is unacceptable, even unimaginable in the democratic world,” Czech foreign ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova told the CTK news agency.
She added that Prague had “always worked for dialogue” on the issue.
Baluyevsky’s comments came a day after Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko pledged to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would side with Moscow in the dispute.
“Belarus is ready to play its role on the question of the proposed deployment in Europe of elements of the anti-missile defence system,” Lukashenko told Putin in Minsk at the end of the Kremlin chief’s visit.
Last month, a Russian general in charge of the country’s missile and artillery forces said Russia could counter US plans by deploying missiles in Belarus, which is located between Russia and Poland.
At a summit with the European Union in October, Putin likened the missile defence dispute to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, although he also said that there were no longer the same Cold War tensions between Moscow and the West.