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Belarus backs Russia's missile plan to counter U.S. shield

RIA Novosti

19/12/2008 17:00 MINSK, December 19 (RIA Novosti) - The Belarusian president said on Friday he fully supported Russia's idea to deploy short-range missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave in response to a U.S. missile shield in Central Europe.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened in November to deploy Iskander-M short-range missiles in the country's westernmost region, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, if the U.S. missile defense system was deployed in Central Europe.

"I absolutely support this statement by Medvedev. He simply warns the Americans that there is a response - a low-cost response - to the deployment of a missile-defense system. And he warns all the Europeans who are now ready to station these systems on their soil," Alexander Lukashenko said.

He said on Thursday that Belarus had no plans to respond to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Central Europe.

"Belarus is not yet going to react to missile defense deployment in Europe. First of all, there is no missile defense in Europe, and second, it is big money we don't have yet," Lukashenko said.

However, he added that if necessary, the country would find the money to respond.

Lukashenko arrived in Moscow on Friday ahead of talks on Monday with Medvedev to discuss Russian gas prices in 2009.

Over the weekend, Lukashenko will play in a match between a team of world stars and officials from Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom, the Belarusian president's press office said, without saying which team the president, an avid ice hockey fan, would play for.

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.

The United States says the system is needed to protect against attacks from "rogue" states such as Iran.

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