Russia May Send Missiles To Belarus

MINSK -- A Russian diplomat said Wednesday that Russia could deploy short-range missiles and strategic bombers in Belarus in response to planned U.S. missile-defense sites in Europe.

The statement by Alexander Surikov, Russia's ambassador to Belarus, was the latest in a series of angry warnings from Russia, which sees the planned deployment of 10 U.S. interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security.

Surikov told a news conference in Minsk that Russia would not send nuclear weapons to Belarus, which handed over its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal to Russia in the early 1990s.

But Surikov said the Russian military could consider deploying short-range Iskander missiles or strategic bombers if the United States goes ahead with its missile-defense plans.

"The military could consider action to counter the missile defense," Surikov said. "That includes Iskander missile systems and strategic bombers in Belarus and Kaliningrad." Kaliningrad is Russia's westernmost Baltic exclave.

Surikov's warning echoed one from a Russian general who warned last November that Iskander missiles could be sent to Belarus.

Placing such missiles in Belarus, which borders Poland, would likely put planned U.S. missile defenses there within range, although the site in the Czech Republic might be out of reach.

Iskander missiles can be fitted with conventional or nuclear warheads, and Russian strategic bombers can also be equipped to carry conventional weapons.