Russia may deploy missiles in Belarus: general

Russia may deploy its newest Iskander tactical missiles in neighboring Belarus in response to U.S. plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe, Russian media quoted a senior general as saying on Wednesday.Asked if the missiles could be deployed in response to the U.S. shield, Major-General Vladimir Zaritsky, head of Russia’s artillery and missile forces, was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass news agency: “Why not? Under the right conditions and with the corresponding agreement of Belarus, it is possible.”

“Any action inevitably causes a reaction,” Zaritsky said. “And this is just the case with the elements of U.S. air defense in the Czech Republic and Poland.”

A Belarussian defense ministry spokesman said there had been no discussion of any such deployment in the ex-Soviet state wedged between Russia and three European Union states.

But spokesman Vyacheslav Remenchik said in Minsk that Belarus planned to purchase and incorporate the Iskander in one of its missile brigades by 2020 under its military program.

Washington plans to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic as part of a shield it says is designed to protect Europe from missile attacks by “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea.

Russia has said this would upset the strategic balance and pose a threat to its security. In July, Moscow proposed the two countries use the Russian-operated early warning Qabala radar in Azerbaijan as an alternative to the U.S. missile shield.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Moscow last month the Qabala radar could not replace the U.S. missile shield.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, accused in the West of crushing fundamental rights, has repeatedly denounced the proposed U.S. shield.

Though he has fallen out with Moscow over increased energy prices, he has offered to work together with the Kremlin to act together to oppose the proposal.

The Iskander missile is able to deliver a 480 kg (1,058 lb) conventional payload within a range of up to 400 km (250 miles).

Zaritsky said Iskander missiles were now fully in line with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

But he said: “Should Russia take a political decision to quit the INF treaty, we will boost the military capabilities of these missiles, including their range.”

Asked if Russia could eventually raise Iskander’s range to over 500 km, which is banned by the INF treaty, Zaritsky said: “Who knows what the motherland may order?”

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