U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who met with President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov during his recent visit to Moscow, attempted to convince the Russian leadership that the U.S. missile shield does not pose any threat to Russia, and suggested that Moscow could cooperate with Washington on a whole range of issues related to the missile defense system.
However, Russia's top brass reacted swiftly and categorically to the U.S. proposal by blasting Washington's position at a news conference at RIA Novosti Tuesday.
Army General Yury Baluyevsky said Russia came up with a proposal to create a European missile defense system back in 1994 and started its implementation in the framework of the Russia-NATO Council, achieving positive results in the process.
"But today, when we are asked to contribute those results to the creation of a global U.S. missile defense network, we will not cooperate on a project that is clearly aimed against us," Baluyevsky said.
The Russian general questioned the U.S. assessment of a potential missile threat from so-called "rogue" states.
He said the current initiative is the fourth attempt by the United States to build a missile shield in Europe. In the 1980s, Washington put forward the infamous Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proposal, also citing Iraq, Iran and North Korea as potential sources of the missile threat.
However, two of the above-mentioned countries, Iraq and North Korea, do not pose any threat to the U.S. anymore, and Washington's concern over Iran's nuclear capability also seems to be rather farfetched, Baluyevsky said.
"The real goal [of the deployment] is to protect [the U.S.] from the Russian and Chinese nuclear missile potential and to create exclusive conditions for the invulnerability of the United States," the general said.
Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday at a news conference in Luxembourg that Moscow is still awaiting a clear explanation from the United States over its proposed missile shield plans.
Lavrov said any cooperation must involve the principle of equal partnership from the very beginning and respect for individual interests.
"This [missile defense initiative] assumes cooperation from the start, and, as a first step, must include a joint assessment of existing threats and coordination of measures to be taken," he said, adding that the U.S. proposal lacks such an assessment.
"We are against any proposal that turns Europe into a playground for someone," the Russian minister said. "We do not want to play these games."
The chief of the Russian General Staff reiterated Tuesday that the U.S missile shield in Central Europe would not seriously affect Russia's nuclear potential.
"This system [U.S. missile defense system in Europe] cannot seriously affect Russia's nuclear deterrent capability," Baluyevsky said, adding that Russia will not build its own global missile defense system similar to that of the United States.
"We do not see the threat that our colleagues in the United States are trying to impose on us," the general said.
But he warned Washington that Russia would monitor the U.S. missile defense installations in Europe if they were ultimately deployed, and would develop an adequate response to U.S. actions.
"If we see that these installations pose a threat to Russia's national security, they will be targeted by our forces," Baluyevsky said. "What measures we are going to use - strategic, nuclear or other - is a technical issue."
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said at the same news conference in Moscow that Russia and the United States have different approaches toward the missile shield issue, which will create obstacles to the development of bilateral relations for a long time.
"It will be a strategic irritant for years to come," the Russian diplomat said.