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Belarus threatens to target missiles at U.S. shield in Europe

RIA Novosti

14/11/2008 17:24 MOSCOW, November 14 (RIA Novosti) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has weighed in on the Russia-U.S. dispute over missile defense, telling a U.S. paper his country could deploy tactical missiles capable of striking Central Europe.

Belarus has joined Russia in condemning U.S. plans to set up an interceptor missile base in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic, saying the missile shield would destroy the strategic balance of forces and threaten national security.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday, Lukashenko said he "absolutely supports" Russia's plans to place Iskander missiles in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

He said Russia has also suggested placing the missiles in Belarus, which likewise shares a border with Poland.

"Even if Russia does not offer us these promising missiles, we will purchase them ourselves," he said, noting that the technology for Iskander optics and fire-control systems comes from Belarus.

"Right now we do not have the funds, but it is part of our plans - I'll tell you a secret here - to have such weapons," he told the paper.

The deployment of mobile Iskander-M missile systems with a range of 500 km (310 miles) in the Kaliningrad region would allow Russia to target almost anywhere in Poland and also parts of Germany and the Czech Republic.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with French daily Le Figaro published on Thursday that Russia would be willing to abandon its plans to deploy the missiles if the U.S. agrees not to set up a missile shield in Central Europe.

After Barack Obama's presidential election victory in the U.S. last week, one of his senior foreign policy advisers, Denis McDonough, said the president-elect was not committed to the missile shield, and would only continue with the project if its effectiveness was proven.

The Belarusian leader, branded "Europe's last dictator" by the outgoing George W. Bush administration, compared himself to the U.S. president-elect.

"I look at Obama, a young man, a good-looking person. That is my first impression, I feel sorry for him. He looks 100% like Lukashenko, when I came to power after the downfall of the Soviet Union. The store shelves were empty, a severe financial crisis," he told the paper.


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