Russia scraps missile plan, criticizes Iran comments

By Vladimir Isachenkov
Associated Press / September 20, 2009

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MOSCOW - Russia said yesterday that it will scrap a plan to deploy missiles near Poland since Washington has dumped a planned missile shield in Eastern Europe. It also harshly criticized Iran’s president for new comments denying the Holocaust.

Neither move, however, represented ceding any significant ground. A plan to place Iskander missiles close to the Polish border was merely a threat. And while the Kremlin has previously criticized Tehran for questioning the reality of the Holocaust, Russian leaders have refused to back a Western push for tougher sanctions against Iran.

It still remains unclear whether Moscow will make any significant concessions on Iran and other issues in response to President Obama’s move to scrap the Bush-era plan for US missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin told Ekho Moskvy radio yesterday that Obama’s move has made the deployment of Iskander short-range missiles in the Kaliningrad region unnecessary.

He described Obama’s move as “victory of reason over ambitions.’’

“Naturally, we will cancel countermeasures which Russia has planned in response, one of which was the deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region,’’ Popovkin said.

Popovkin’s statement was the most explicit declaration yet of Russia’s intention to scrap the plan after Obama’s decision, which was announced Thursday.

Popovkin later added, however, that the final decision on the subject can only be made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Russian news agencies reported. Medvedev hasn’t yet spoken on the issue.

Russia staunchly opposed the plan by the former administration of George W. Bush to deploy 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic and said if the project went ahead it would respond by deploying the Iskander missiles in its westernmost Baltic Sea region.

Obama’s decision to scrap the plan was based largely on a new US intelligence assessment that Iran’s effort to build a nuclear-capable long-range missile would take three to five years longer than originally thought, US officials said. The new US missile-defense plan would rely on a network of sensors and interceptor missiles based at sea, on land, and in the air as a bulwark against Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.

Medvedev hailed Obama’s decision as a “responsible move,’’ but Russian officials have given no indication yet that Moscow could make concessions in other areas, including Iran. Washington is counting on Moscow to help raise pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.

Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Ministry harshly criticized the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his Friday’s comments in which he again questioned whether the Holocaust was a “real event.’’

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko called the Iranian remarks “absolutely unacceptable’’ and insulting to the memory of the World War II victims.

“It won’t help create a favorable international atmosphere for starting and conducting an efficient dialogue on issues regarding Iran,’’ Nesterenko said in a statement.