SKOLKOVO, Russia — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday warned the West it would face a new Cold War if it failed to address Russia's concerns over a proposed missile defence shield for Europe.
Medvedev told reporters that the U.S. decision to push ahead with construction of the missile defence system despite Russia's objections will force Moscow "to take retaliatory measures — something that we would very much rather not do."
"We would then be talking about developing the offensive potential of our nuclear capabilities. This would be a very bad scenario."
The Russian leader also reaffirmed any earlier threat to pull out of the new START disarmament agreement that entered into force this year if the missile shield is deployed and operated without the Kremlin's input.
"This would be a very bad scenario. It would be a scenario that throws us back into the Cold War era."
Moscow has been fighting NATO plans to deploy a system the West sees as a means of protection from nations such as Iran but Russia believes could potentially be deployed against its own defences.
The Kremlin's biggest fear is that the shield could one day be turned around and instead of shooting down incoming missiles be used to attack Russian soil.
Medvedev on Wednesday demanded a legally-binding assurance from the United States that this will never happen — a safeguard that Moscow says Washington is refusing to give.
NATO has thus far invited Russia to voice its concerns in formal meetings but refused to provide Moscow with a formal role in the shield's operation that it seeks.
"We would like to see missile defence develop under clear rules," Medvedev said in the first broad-ranging press conference of his three-year presidency.
Medvedev said he understood the United States' argument that the shield was not aimed at Russia but rather nations such as Iran.
But he argued that such nations do not yet have the capacity to launch nuclear weapons at the West.
"That means it is aimed against us," said Medvedev.
"And if not, invite us to co-operate" in the shield's deployment and operation, the Russian leader said.