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Army Chief in Russia Accuses West of Corroding Arms Control

Russia's top general has sharply criticized U.S. plans for an anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe and accused the West of using the arms control system as a political tool. He warned that Russia could launch a ballistic missile in response to the launch of a U.S. interceptor missile in Europe. Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow.

Speaking at a news conference broadcast on state television, Russia's Army Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevsky accused the West of deliberately turning an agreement on European arms control into an instrument to achieve what he called "political aims" against Russia.

He warned that if the U.S. launches its interceptor missiles, Russia could inadvertently strike in response. Mr.Baluyevsky said that a launch of an anti-ballistic missile can be classified as a launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, with all the corresponding consequences, adding that Russia's defenses were controlled by an automated system.

The U.S. says its proposed missile shield in Europe is designed to protect NATO countries - and Russia - from possible missile attacks by Iran. But Baluyevsky says U.S. offers to Russia in negotiations over the missile defense shield were "unacceptable" and U.S. plans could not be interpreted in any other way than being aimed against Russia.

The Chief of Staff also accused NATO of boosting its military potential and criticized the alliance's expansion to the Russian border. But he said that Moscow has no plans for massing troops despite being free to do so after Russia suspended the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty.

On December 12, Russia walked away from the CFE treaty, a key Cold War agreement that limits the stationing of troops and heavy weapons from the Atlantic Ocean to Russia's Ural mountains.

Moscow said it is pulling out of the CFE because of the failure of 26 NATO members to ratify the revised 1999 version of the treaty.

NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the east and central European alliance that was led by the Soviet Union, signed the treaty limiting conventional weapons deployment in 1990. It was updated in 1999 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia ratified the renewed document in 2004, but NATO countries have said they will only ratify if Moscow lives up to a pledge to pull its troops out of former Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko expressed support for Moscow as he held two days of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk.

Earlier, Mr. Putin said Russia could counter U.S. plans to deploy its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic by deploying missiles in Belarus, located between Russia and Poland.