"If we see that Russia's national interests are under threat, this threat will be minimized. By what means - political, diplomatic, or military - is a technical issue. However, this process will include a military component - the Iskander [missile] or another system," Yury Baluyevsky told a RIA Novosti news conference.
"Of course we do not want things to go that far," he added in a clear reference to U.S. plans to deploy part of its missile shield in Europe, which Russian political leaders and military officials suspect of being targeted against Moscow, rather than "rogue states" such as Iran.
Baluyevsky warned Washington, and specifically U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, against deliberately playing down Russia's offer made during the G8 summit in Germany earlier this month to use a radar in Azerbaijan for missile defense instead of similar sites in Central Europe.
He said that the U.S. response would be a "litmus test" for the world to see what Washington really wants.
"In a nutshell, I think the U.S. assessment of what Putin proposed in Heiligendamm is as follows. Washington is firmly set on deploying its missile defenses in Europe, which means that the current U.S. administration will not respond positively to Russia's initiative," Baluyevsky said.
"We are saying quite openly that if we get no response to our proposal...., then everything will be clear. In fact, the entire world will see the real purpose of the "third site" in Poland and the Czech Republic, and who its perceived targets are," he added.
He brushed off recent reports suggesting that Russia's choice, the Gabala Station, is too old technologically to be part of a joint missile defense capability and vowed to let international media visit the station and see for themselves.
"Somehow, the only thing everyone is talking about seems to be what this radar cannot do," he said. "Some experts have said that the radar is outdated. I can assure you that this is not true."
"I don't think one should rush to judge the radar's inability to track ballistic missiles," he said, adding that Russia could modernize the radar to address any challenges. "Here, in the presence of foreign media, I promise that before July 1 you will have the opportunity to inspect and visit the radar just as the Russian media have done. Azerbaijan has already agreed to [let you do so]," he said.
Baluyevsky said that Western commentators had misinterpreted Russia's surprise offer as tacit acknowledgement of a missile threat from Iran.
"The U.S. is apparently saying that Russia has, finally, recognized that Iran is a missile threat, and that this is the reason why the Gabala radar was offered for joint use... As a military expert, I call this a misinterpretation. We have never denied a global trend toward the proliferation of missiles and nuclear weapons, but we insist that this trend is not something catastrophic, which would require a global missile defense system deployed near Russian borders," he said.
While describing a missile threat from Iran as "merely hypothetical," at least in the short term, Baluyevsky warned that the intentions of the U.S. and Poland, which has shown willingness to host U.S. missiles, look quite straightforward.
"Let us be blunt - the Poles fear that, should we reach an agreement [with Washington on Gabala], their illusion of having earned some special preferences by cozying up to the U.S. will be shattered," Russia's top general said.
"What [the U.S.] is doing right now is ... the "third site." Where will the "fourth," the "fifth" be? They will [follow after the third], I assure you. They will, if someone fails to show enough wisdom," he said about U.S. plans.
The Gabala radar, built in 1985 to track missile launches from the south, covers the entire Middle East, much of North and East Africa, and the Indian Ocean down to Madagascar. Under a special agreement with Azerbaijan, it will be used by Russia at least until 2012.
Results of a poll conducted earlier this week by a leading Russian pollster, Public Opinion Foundation, suggests that Baluyevsky's language was in line with broader public perception of U.S. policies. The pollster said 61% of respondents had described the U.S. as a country unfriendly to Russia.
However, Public Opinion said, 17% saw a bright future for Russia-U.S. relations (only 15% were pessimistic, others more or less undecided), and 48% favored rapprochement.