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Russia could respond to U.S. radar in Caucasus - Air Force chief

RIA Novosti

02/03/2007 14:26 MOSCOW, March 2 (RIA Novosti) - The deployment of a U.S. anti-missile radar system in the Caucasus would not affect Russia's defense capabilities, but the country could have to respond to the move nevertheless, the Russian Air Force commander said Friday.

The statement came after a senior Pentagon official said Thursday that the United States "would like to place a radar in the Caucasus," and earlier reports of plans to place elements of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which have further strained relations between the U.S. and Russia.

"Let them deploy [a radar]," Vladimir Mikhailov said. "It is their decision. Unfortunately, we have also heard of plans to place U.S. missile shield elements in countries like Ukraine and other states, including former Soviet republics."

Mikhailov said Russia was capable of offering an adequate response to the deployment.

Russia, which has been anxious about NATO bases that have appeared in former Communist-bloc countries and ex-Soviet republics, has blasted the plans to deploy anti-missile systems in Central Europe as a national security threat and a destabilizing factor for Europe.

Washington said the defenses would be designed to counter possible strikes from North Korea and Iran, which are involved in long-running disputes with the international community over their nuclear programs.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, who oversees the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, did not specify which country in the Caucasus might be selected as a possible site for an anti-missile radar.

A senior Russian analyst suggested Friday that Georgia would be the most likely site.

"The most convenient, in political terms, territory [for the radar] today is Georgia, which has not objected to a single U.S. proposal," said Leonid Ivashov, deputy head of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems think tank. "I believe the Americans could place a radar there."

But he said that a deployment in Azerbaijan was also a possibility.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Munich last month that Georgia could become a candidate to join the alliance in 2009 if it successfully carried out the reforms of its Armed Forces.

The Georgian Defense Ministry had no comment on the matter Friday.

"We are refraining from comments on the issue for now. We might issue an official statement during the day," a ministry spokesman said.

Azerbaijan said Washington had not yet approached it with any proposals.

"We have no information on that score," Ramiz Melikov, head of the ministry's press service said.

Ivashov also said Russia would have to target its missile systems on a radar in the Caucasus to ensure its security.

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