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Russia stiffens "nyet" to US missiles, Kosovo independence By Shada Islam and Leon Mangasarian
dpa German Press Agency
Published: Friday February 9, 2007

By Shada Islam and Leon Mangasarian,
Seville, Spain- Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov on
Friday vowed military counter-measures against a planned US missile
defence system and stiffened opposition to full independence for
Kosovo.
Ivanov, a leading Russian hawk and possible successor to Russian
President Vladimir Putin in 2008, staked out his country's tough
stance after meeting defence ministers from NATO's 26 states in the
southern Spanish city of Seville.

The Russian defence chief insisted that planned deployment of 10
anti-ballistic missile systems by the US - to be stationed in Poland
and the Czech Republic - would not undermine Moscow's nuclear
deterrence.

"We will develop our own strategic systems which have the
capability to surpass any anti-missile system," said Ivanov, adding
that Russian counter-measures would be asymmetric and "not very
expensive."

He added that Russia would not "get back into an arms race."

Ivanov expressed deep scepticism over Washington's rationale for
missile defence, saying North Korean and Iranian missiles could not
reach either Europe or the US - but they could reach Russia.

The United States in 2002 withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty which was signed in 1972 between the US and the former Soviet
Union. Washington said this was necessary in order to build anti-
missile systems to protect the US from so-called "rogue states."

While expressing alarm over the proliferation of nuclear and
missile technology, Ivanov noted that terrorists had no need for
advanced weapons delivery systems.

"Terrorists don't need missiles because they have suicide bombers
and civilian planes," he said.

Nevertheless, Ivanov called for a joint Russia-US push for
amendments to the non-proliferation regime which he said needed
strengthening.

Turning to Kosovo, Ivanov rejected a plan for giving the breakaway
Serbian province near-independence as proposed by UN envoy Martti
Ahtisaari.

"If we follow this way, we can in fact open a Pandora's box and
this can lead to unpredictable circumstances," he warned.

Moscow has said repeatedly that independence for Kosovo, which is
still legally part of Serbia, would set a precedent which could be
applied to other breakaway regions in the former Soviet Union.

These include the Russian-backed Transnistria region of Moldova,
and the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all of
which have been dubbed the "frozen conflicts."

NATO forces ejected Serb troops from Kosovo in a 1999 war and the
province has since been administered by the UN, backed up by 16,000
NATO peacekeepers.

Russia has firmly backed its close ally Serbia on Kosovo and
Moscow's stance in sharp contrast to the position taken by western
Europe and the US.

Defence ministers of the 26-member NATO alliance on Thursday urged
a swift resolution of Kosovo's final status and underlined that
alliance troops would stay on in the province.

Asked if Russia had any advice for NATO forces struggling against
Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Ivanov cautioned against focusing
only on a military solution.

This was an echo of German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung who
on Thursday told reporters that NATO must concentrate on rebuilding
Afghanistan and winning hearts and minds.

"When the Russians were in Afghanistan they had 100,000 soldiers
there and they did not win," said Jung.

Troops from the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979
and withdrew in 1989 after suffering numerous defeats at the hands of
US-backed Mujahedeen forces.

Ivanov said his country had a strong interest in the success of
NATO forces in Afghanistan and was helping the alliance with
logistical support and intelligence.

"Clearly we cannot send Russian soldiers (to Afghanistan)," he
said.

Ivanov said Russia planned to hold meetings in June aimed at
charting a path for Russia-NATO strategic relations for the next 10
to 15 years.

Russia is not a NATO member and has in the past been uneasy over
the alliance's recent expansion up to its borders. There is strong
opposition in the Russian government to the idea that Georgia or
Ukraine could someday join NATO.

Most defence ministers who attended the NATO meeting in Seville
are travelling to Munich to take part in the annual security
conference opening Saturday in the Bavarian capital.

Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela
Merkel are due to address the Munich conference.

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency