MOSCOW, February 7 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's defense minister said Wednesday that the country's commitment not to deploy medium-range ballistic missiles was a mistake.
Speaking at a session of the lower house of parliament, Sergei Ivanov said the Russian leadership has committed a number of mistakes in the past that have weakened the country's defense capability.
"The gravest mistake was the decision to scrap a whole class of missile weapons - medium- range ballistic missiles," Ivanov said, adding that dozens of countries currently possess these weapons.
"Only Russia and the United States do not have the right to have such weapons, although they would be quite useful for us," the minister said.
The former Soviet Union and the U.S. signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) December 8, 1987.
The treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles). By the treaty's deadline of June 1, 1991, a total of 2,692 such weapons had been destroyed, 846 by the U.S. and 1,846 by the Soviet Union.
Demand for the INF treaty arose in the 1970s when the Soviet Union began to deploy what the West called SS-20 missiles. These were two-stage, medium-range missiles, many of them mobile and hard for the United States to track or destroy. Since most SS-20s targeted Europe, they allegedly threatened America's NATO partners.
The U.S. administration under Ronald Reagan proposed the so-called "zero option," stipulating that if the Soviet Union scrapped all its ground-launched medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, the United States would do the same and abandon its plans to deploy anti-missile defenses in Europe.
Seeking better relations with the West, ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev agreed to remove more than three times as many warheads and destroy more than twice as many missiles as Washington by 1991.
Sergei Ivanov's regrets about scrapping intermediate-range missiles coincide with renewed U.S. plans to deploy elements of its anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Moscow strongly opposes the deployment of a missile shield in its former backyard in Central Europe, describing the plans as a threat to Russian national security.
Speaking at an annual televised news conference February 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to amend the country's military strategy, in view of the new developments: "We must think - we are thinking - of ways to ensure our national security. All our responses will be asymmetrical but highly effective."