Russia said Thursday its dispute with the United States over missile defence was near a “dead end” and warned it might have to deploy new rockets in Europe to take out elements of the controversial shield.
The comments came just hours before Russian generals were to sit down for crunch talks with a special team Washington dispatched ahead of next month’s official deployment of the first elements of the new shield.
Russia has argued vehemently against a defence system the United States is deploying to protect its European allies against any attack from enemy states such as Iran that the West fears are seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
Officials in Moscow fear the shield may harm its own nuclear deterrence and have warned of unleashing a massive new armament programme if Washington failed to allay its concerns.
Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov said one option was for Russia to station short-range Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave near Poland in a long-discussed move that has gravely alarmed Eastern European states.
The generals backed up their argument by unfurling a projection screen before visiting dignitaries from 50 countries and playing graphics of how NATO missiles could eliminate Russian rockets by the end of the decade.
The standoff has tested Russian-US relations for much of the past decade and been one of the primary issues addressed by President Barack Obama when he launched a diplomatic “reset” with Moscow in 2009.
But it has gained added urgency as Russia makes a transition from outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev to his mentor Vladimir Putin — an ex-KGB spy who fought often with Washington during his first two terms in the Kremlin.
Putin will be sworn in for a third term as president on Monday and Washington has dispatched an entire team of top advisers tasked with calming tensions in the short term.
The Russian strongman has already decided against attending next month’s NATO summit in Chicago to protest the shield’s formal deployment at the event.
Yet the rhetoric appears to be masking the sides’ tacit agreement to push back serious shield discussions until Obama has a chance in November to defeat a Republican presidential rival who could take a much tougher line with Moscow.
An open microphone famously caught Obama telling Medvedev in March that he could negotiate some concessions on the system if Russia gave him “space” until after the election this year.
NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow made clear as the first day of meetings wound down that no new offers were made to Moscow by the visiting Western command.