The harsh warning reflects deep cracks in US-Russian ties despite Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with the Kremlin.
President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that he still hopes for a deal with the US on missile defence, but he accused Washington and its Nato allies of ignoring Russia’s worries. He said Russia will have to take military countermeasures if the US continues to build the shield without legal guarantees that it will not be aimed against Russia.
The US has repeatedly assured Russia its proposed missile defence system would not be directed against Russia’s nuclear forces, and it did that again on Wednesday.
“I do think it’s worth reiterating that the European missile defence system that we’ve been working very hard on with our allies and with Russia over the last few years is not aimed at Russia,” said a Pentagon spokesman.
“It is designed to help deter and defeat the ballistic missile threat to Europe and to our allies from Iran.”
The White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said the US will continue to seek Moscow’s co-operation, but it must realise “that the missile defence systems planned for deployment in Europe do not and cannot threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent”.
Medvedev said Moscow wants a binding agreement. “When we propose to put it on paper in the form of precise and clear legal obligations, we hear a strong refusal.”
Russia would station missiles in Kaliningrad, its westernmost region which has Nato neighbours on all sides, if the US continued its plans without offering firm and specific pledges. He did not say whether the missiles would carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
The Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said he was “very disappointed” with Russia’s threat to deploy missiles near alliance nations. He said that “would be reminiscent of the past” and inconsistent with the strategic relations Nato and Russia seek.
US missile defence has long tarnished ties between Moscow and Washington. The Obama administration has repeatedly said the shield is needed to fend off a potential threat from Iran, but Russia fears that it could erode the deterrent potential of its nuclear forces.
Medvedev and other Russian leaders have made similar threats in the past, and the latest statement appears to be aimed at the domestic audience ahead of parliamentary elections on 4 December.