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    Belarus plans to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems

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    Belarus is negotiating the purchase of advanced S-400 air defense systems from Russia, the country's defense minister said on Thursday.

    MINSK, February 21 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus is negotiating the purchase of advanced S-400 air defense systems from Russia, the country's defense minister said on Thursday.

    The S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) is a new air defense missile system developed by the Almaz Central Design Bureau as an upgrade of the S-300 family.

    "The purchase of S-400 systems is being negotiated [with Russia]," Leonid Maltsev told a news conference in Minsk.

    Belarus submitted last year a formal request for two S-400 battalions to be made available by 2010.

    Almaz General Director Igor Ashurbeili previously said that S-400 production for export could start in 2009. Russia has already deployed an S-400 battalion to protect the air space around Moscow, and plans to put another battalion on combat duty in the same region in 2008.

    Russia has been reluctant so far to export its new air defense systems, but recent U.S. steps to deploy missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic may convince the Russian leadership to share the advances in military technology with allies in the region.

    The Belarusian defense minister said that although it was a matter of a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Poland, the placement of 10 U.S. missile interceptors in Europe undermined the balance of forces in the region.

    Maltsev said the Belarusian army had been modernizing its weaponry and the S-400 missile systems would be a desirable addition to its revamped arsenal.

    The S-400 is designed to intercept and destroy airborne targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers (250 miles), or twice the range of the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot, and 2.5 times that of the S-300PMU-2.

    The system is believed to have high capability to destroy stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles with an effective range of up to 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles), and a speed of up to 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) per second.

    A regular S-400 battalion comprises at least eight launchers and 32 missiles and a mobile command post, according to various sources.

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