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Agence France Presse

Russia Drops Kaliningrad Missile Plans


A Russian Iskander missile mounted on a truck in the Siberian town of Nizhny Tagil in 2005. Russia has shelved plans to install missiles on central Europe's doorstep after detecting a cooling by the Obama administration towards a controversial US shield project, a military official has said. (AFP/Vedomosti/File/Evgeny Stetsko)

MOSCOW - Russia has shelved plans to install missiles on central Europe's doorstep after detecting a cooling by the Obama administration towards a controversial US shield project, a military official said on Wednesday.

Moscow had warned it would deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave wedged between NATO and EU members Poland and Lithuania, if Washington did not withdraw its controversial European missile shield plan.

"The realisation of these plans has been suspended in connection with the fact that the new American administration is not speeding up its plans" for missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, an official from Russia's military headquarters told the Interfax news agency.

"Russia does not need to place Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if a US missile defence shield is not going to put fear into Eastern Europe," the official added.

There was no confirmation from a military spokesman.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed fury with the plans of former US president George W. Bush to install the missile shield in Eastern Europe, saying it threatened Russia's national security.

Washington says its plans to build a radar base in the Czech Republic and install interceptor missiles in Poland are aimed at countering what it described as a missile threat from "rogue states" such as Iran.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said late last year that the short-range Iskander missiles would be installed in Kaliningrad to "neutralise" the threat posed by the missile defence system.

Medvedev chose to make that announcement on November 5, the very day when Obama was celebrating his stunning presidential election victory.

Despite the confidence expressed by the Russian official that the United States is sidelining the missile defence plans, Obama has yet to make clear whether he will press ahead with the strategy.

The RIA Novosti news agency quoted another high-ranking military official as saying that the idea of putting the missiles in Kaliningrad had never been anything more than a plan.

"No practical measures for installing the Iskanders in the west of the country had been taken by the defence ministry," the official said.

Russian officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that they have heard "positive signals" from Obama and hope that relations will recover from the post-Cold War lows reached during the last year of the Bush presidency.

But Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned of raising hopes too high. "I am deeply convinced that the biggest disappointments are born out of big expectations," he said earlier this month.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Obama and Medvedev might have their first meeting on the sidelines of the G20 group of countries on April 2 in London.

"There will be great expectations from that meeting because we have received signals from the US administration of a desire to move forward on those difficult problems," the ITAR-TASS news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko as saying Wednesday.


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