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Putin warns Russia will respond to NATO missile shield

By Vladimir Isachenkov Associated Press

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday described the development of NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense program as a threat to global security and vowed that his nation will take the necessary steps to maintain a strategic parity.

Putin, speaking at a meeting with military officials, scoffed at U.S. claims that the shield isn’t aimed against Russia but instead intended to fend off a missile threat from Iran. The system includes a site in Romania that became operational Thursday, and officials were to break the ground for another site in Poland Friday.

“Just a few years ago, our partners in the West, in Europe and the United States, were all speaking in one voice, telling us that they need a missile defense system to protect from missile and nuclear threats from Iran,” Putin said, adding that such a threat has ceased to exist after last year’s nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. “The threat is gone, but the creation of the missile defense system is continuing.”

Putin said that Russia “will do everything needed to ensure and preserve the strategic balance, which is the most reliable guarantee from large-scale military conflicts,” but will not get drawn into an arms race.

Earlier this week, Col. Gen. Sergei Karakayev, the chief of the Russian military’s Strategic Missile Forces, said that new types of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles accelerate faster and are equipped with maneuverable warheads, making them more difficult to intercept.

As another potential response, the military has talked about stationing its state-of-the art Iskander missiles to Russia’s westernmost Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad that borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. Last year, they were airlifted there during military maneuvers in a demonstration of their swift deployment capability, but were pulled back to their permanent base after the drills.

Russia has long described the U.S.-led missile shield as a top threat to its security. Russian military officials have said that while the system in its current shape doesn’t pose a threat to Russia’s massive nuclear missile force, it could erode the nation’s nuclear deterrent when it grows more powerful in the future.

“They aren’t defensive systems, they are part of the U.S. strategic nuclear potential deployed on the periphery, in eastern Europe,” Putin said. “And people who make those decisions must know that to that day they have lived in calm and security without any trouble. Now, after the deployment of those missile defense elements, we will have to think about how we can fend off the threats to the Russian Federation’s security.”

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