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    Russia missile forces ready to quit INF Treaty

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    Russia's strategic missile forces are ready to pull out of the INF Treaty with the United States if a political decision is made, the SMF commander said Monday.

    MOSCOW, February 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's strategic missile forces are ready to pull out of the INF Treaty with the United States if a political decision is made, the SMF commander said Monday.

    The former Soviet Union and the U.S. signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) December 8, 1987. The agreement came into force in June 1988 and does not have a specific duration.

    "If a political decision is taken to quit the treaty, the Strategic Missile Forces are ready to carry out this task," Nikolai Solovtsov told a news conference in Moscow.

    Army General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said last February 15 that Moscow might unilaterally abandon the treaty.

    "It is possible for a party to abandon the treaty [unilaterally] if it provides convincing evidence that it is necessary to do so," said Baluyevsky. "We currently have such evidence."

    The INF 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.

    Baluyevsky's remarks sounded as a strong warning to the U.S. regarding its plans to deploy elements of its anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Washington plans to install a radar system in the Czech Republic and to deploy missile defense systems in Poland to counter the alleged ballistic missile threat from Iran and North Korea.

    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.

    Solovtsov said Monday that Russia's Strategic Missile Forces will be able to track down elements of the U.S. missile defense system if deployed in Central Europe.

    "If the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic make such a decision, the Strategic Missile Forces will be able to target these systems," Nikolai Solovtsov said.

    He also said Russia possessed the technology and the capability to resume production of intermediate- and short-range missiles in the near future.

    "It is not difficult for us to restart the production of the medium- and short-range missiles because we have preserved all technologies," Solovtsov said. "It could be done quickly if the need arises."

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last Friday that the statement by Russia's chief of the General Staff that Russia could quit the INF treaty does not mean a final decision has been made in this regard.

    ""We are not speaking about a decision that has already been made. We are simply stating the facts," Lavrov said.

    Governments of Poland and the Czech Republic reaffirmed Monday their readiness to allow the United States to base elements of its missile shield on their territory.

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