Putin may target U.S. bases in Europe

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin, with words reminiscent of the Cold War, warned Sunday that his military would respond to a planned American missile defense system near its borders by aiming its missiles at U.S. military bases in Europe.

Putin assailed the White House plan to place a radar system in the nearby Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland – two countries that were in the Soviet orbit during the Cold War era. He said if the U.S. went ahead, Russia would have to take steps to restore the strategic balance in the world.

Putin said neither Iran nor North Korea has the rockets that the system is intended to shoot down, suggesting it would be used instead against Russia.

“We are being told the anti-missile defense system is targeted against something that does not exist. Doesn’t it seem funny to you, to say the least?” an irritated Putin told foreign reporters days before he heads to Germany for a summit with President Bush and other leaders of the Group of Eight.

He said he hoped that U.S. officials would change their minds.

“If this doesn’t happen, then we disclaim responsibility for our retaliatory steps, because it is not we who are the initiators of the new arms race which is undoubtedly brewing in Europe,” Putin said.

In an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera on Sunday, Putin suggested Russia could respond to the threat by aiming its nuclear weapons at Europe.

Asked whether the planned U.S. missile defense shield would compel Moscow to target its own missiles on U.S. military sites and other locations in Europe, Putin replied, “Naturally, yes.”

“If the American nuclear potential grows in European territory, we have to give ourselves new targets in Europe,” he said.”

The White House had no comment Sunday on Putin’s new warning.

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