Moscow ‘could attack US missile system’

Russia said it was revising its military doctrine to reflect other powers’ growing use of military force, while a Russian general warned again that Moscow could knock out elements of the US missile defence system planned for eastern Europe.

The comments came as Angela Merkel, German chancellor, added her voice to the heated international debate over the missile defence system by calling for Nato to be given responsibility for defusing concerns over the plan.

“Nato is the best place for discussion of this issue,” she told the Financial Times in an interview, arguing that Washington should step up consultation with its western allies and Russia.

Her statement reflects concerns over increasing east-west tensions since Vladimir Putin, Russian president, delivered a speech in Munich sharply criticising US unilateralism, and the US formally asked Poland and the Czech Republic to host parts of the anti-missile system.

Russia disputes Washington’s claims that the system is not aimed at Russia but designed to intercept missiles from “rogue” states such as Iran or North Korea.

Russia has said that it might withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which outlawed an entire class of medium-range weapons, unless the US drops plans to site the system in eastern Europe.

In the latest warning, Gen Igor Khvorov, head of Russia’s strategic bomber force, said Russian bombers could easily knock out the installations. “Since missile defence elements are weakly protected, all types of our aircraft are capable of applying electronic counter measures against them or physically destroying them.”

At the same time, Russia’s presidential security council said it was developing a new military doctrine to take account of the growing role of force in the foreign policy of “leading states”.

Without naming the US, it echoed the language of Mr Putin’s complaints about Washington’s unrestrained use of force.

“Leading states are paying increasing attention in military policy to modernising their military forces and improving their weaponry,” the statement added. “Modern forms of armed conflict are being actively implemented, technologies for use of force are being reviewed, the configuration of military presence is being changed, and military alliances are being strengthened – particularly Nato.”

But Mrs Merkel said that Nato should be the forum for greater consultation by Washington of both its western allies and Russia on the issue of missile defence. “It is better to have more discussion on this issue rather than less,” she said.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, used a visit to Berlin last month to stress that Washington had held 10 rounds of talks with Russia on the defence system since spring 2006.

Mirek Topolanek, Czech prime minister, also brushed aside European objections to the missile defence plan. “As for the 18 EU member states who host US military bases, it is not up to them to comment on the existence of such a presence in the Czech Republic,” he said after talks with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato secretary general, in Brussels.

German officials said Berlin was concerned that while the defence system was not targeted at Russia, there was a danger its creation could mark a departure from the international trend since the early 1990s towards disarmament.

At an EU meeting yesterday, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, was more outspoken, calling the US plans “incomprehensible”.

“We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner,” he said.

By Neil Buckley in Moscow, Daniel Dombey in Brussels, and Hugh Williamson, Bertrand Benoit and Frederick Studemann in Berlin

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