Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph:
(by Adrian Blomfield, Telegraph.com) MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin has sent a chilling message to world leaders on the eve of the G8 summit with a threat to aim Russian nuclear missiles at European cities for the first time since the Cold War.
In comments that seemed calculated to cause consternation and division at Wednesday’s meeting in Germany, the Russian leader said that American plans to erect a missile defence shield in eastern Europe had left him with no choice but to retaliate.
“It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the United States is located in Europe we will have to respond,” he told reporters from G8 countries in Moscow at the weekend.
“What kind of steps are we are going to take in response? Of course we are going to acquire new targets in Europe.”
Mr Putin’s anti-western rhetoric has grown more strident since Washington confirmed plans to locate 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic by 2012 – a project he believes is directed at Russia.
The United States says privately that the program is designed to stop one or two missiles fired by Iran, which continues to develop a nuclear program despite mounting international pressure.
With more disputes between Russia and other G8 members brewing, the strain in East-West relations will overshadow a summit that the German hosts wanted to focus on the environment and African poverty.
Despite hopes that an invitation for direct talks with President George W Bush next month would mollify Mr Putin’s anger, the Russian president sent out a clear signal that he preferred combat to compromise.
Ã¢â‚¬Å”This system of missile defence on one side and the absence of this system on the other… increases the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict,Ã¢â‚¬Â he warned.
At his last summit with fellow leaders from the Group of Eight industrialised nations, Tony Blair can expect a particularly frosty reception when he meets Mr Putin on the sidelines of the summit.
The Kremlin is outraged by Britain’s demand to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, over the murder of his fellow KGB veteran Alexander Litvinenko, accusing London of exploiting the case for political ends.
Mr Putin went one step further at the weekend, accusing Britain of providing shelter to terrorists – a reference to the political asylum granted by the courts to Boris Berezovsky, a tycoon and the president’s chief foe, and to Akhmad Zakayev, an envoy of the anti-Russian Chechen rebels.
“The suspicion arises that this is a political move made by those who hide terrorists and thieves on their own territory,” Mr Putin said.
America has backed Britain’s extradition request, although Russia has already rejected it, and Mr Blair is likely to maintain his support for the US missile shield.
But diplomats suggested that Mr Putin’s nuclear threat could be borne from a belief that support from other G8 countries – particularly Germany and Italy – is less solid.
Mr Putin, they suggested, was attempting to persuade European powers that the shield, which is ostensibly meant to protect the West from nuclear attack by a rogue Middle Eastern country, was not worth the risk of provoking Russia.
Returning to a theme that has begun to dominate statements by senior Kremlin officials, Mr Putin acknowledged that targeting Europe with Russian missiles would escalate an arms race he says has already begun.
But, he insisted: “It was not us who started altering the strategic balance.”
The president refused to be drawn on which European cities could be targeted.
“It is up to our military to define these targets, in addition to defining the choice between ballistic and cruise missiles,” he said. “But this is just a technical aspect.”
America has ruled out abandoning the shield, expressing exasperation that Russia has rebuffed repeated invitations to participate in the project.
US officials have called Moscow’s fears “preposterous”, arguing that the 10 conventional missiles at the heart of the shield would be no match for Russia’s huge arsenal.
Russia has an estimated 16,000 nuclear warheads, the world’s largest stockpile, with 7,200 said to be operational.
It is unclear to what extent Mr Putin’s threat may be bluff. At last year’s G8 summit, hosted by Russia, world leaders went out of their way to avoid criticising him – even though he mocked Mr Bush and Mr Blair.
A year later, however, the Russian leader is increasingly aware that the mood of indulgence is swiftly evaporating.
David Kramer, the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said Washington would no longer “abstain from speaking out”.
“The suppression of genuine opposition, the abridgment of the right to protest, the constriction of civil society and the decline of media freedom are all serious setbacks.”
Information appearing on telegraph.co.uk is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Telegraph. Visit the website at telegraph.co.uk.
The Group of Eight (G8), formerly G7 until Russia joined, is an international forum for the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Together, these countries represent about 65% of the world economy. The group’s activities include year-round conferences and policy research, culminating with an annual summit meeting attended by the heads of government of the member states. The European Commission is also represented at the meetings.
Each year, member states of the G8 take turns assuming the presidency of the group. The holder of the presidency sets the group’s annual agenda and hosts the summit for that year. The presidency for 2007 belongs to Germany, which will host the 33rd G8 summit in Heiligendamm from June 6 to June 8. (from Wikipedia.org)
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.