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Russia abandons plans to deploy missiles near Poland

The move comes in response to Obama's decision to scrap a proposed missile defense shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

September 20, 2009|Megan K. Stack

MOSCOW — Russia will drop its controversial threat to deploy missiles near Poland in a reaction to shifts in U.S. missile shield plans, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Saturday.

After President Obama decided last week to scrap the U.S. plan for missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow was widely expected to follow suit and abandon its threat to deploy Iskander missile systems in the far western Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

"Naturally, we will cancel the measures that Russia planned to take in response to the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems," Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio. "Common sense has finally prevailed over ambitions."

Obama's move to scrap plans for the missile installations, which the Kremlin viewed as a menace, removes a stubborn sticking point from U.S.-Russian relations.

The timing suggests the U.S. step might have been intended to woo Moscow into becoming more helpful on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But Russian officials have remained noncommittal, and their abandonment of an unfulfilled threat is unlikely to boost Western hopes for cooperation on the Iran issue.

Moscow has generally backed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and taken pains to maintain cordial relations -- and considerable trade interests -- with Iran. The Iranian president traveled to Russia this summer while street protests were raging at home over the legitimacy of his reelection, and was received by his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

On Saturday, however, the Russian government sharply criticized Ahmadinejad for calling the Holocaust a "myth."

"Statements to that effect, no matter where they come from, signify a departure from the truth, and are unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said. "Attempts to deny the Holocaust . . . are an insult to all [World War II] victims and to all those who fought against fascism."

Russia has come under heavy pressure from Israel and the United States to toughen its stance against Tehran's nuclear program. Expectations are growing for meetings, set to begin Oct. 1 in Turkey, of Iranian diplomats and officials from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The idea of deploying missiles in Kaliningrad had been roundly criticized by the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European countries.

NATO officials warned that setting up missiles in the patch of Russian land between Poland and Lithuania would have violated U.S.-Russian security treaties.

Moscow replied that any military plans for Kaliningrad were an internal affair, and not up for international discussion. If the United States pressed ahead with its plans, Russian officials said, then so would Moscow.

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megan.stack@latimes.com

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