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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Seeks To Assure Ukraine On Missiles

ReutersObering, front right, leaving talks with Ukrainian officials in Kiev Wednesday.
KIEV -- A senior U.S. general insisted Wednesday that the Pentagon's planned missile defense system in Europe would be useless against Russia's vast arsenal of warheads, and expressed hope that Moscow's opposition to the initiative would eventually soften.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, made the comments during a two-day visit to explain U.S. plans to put a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor site in Poland to guard against potential attacks from Iran, a project that has angered Russia and received a mixed reaction in Ukraine.

"We are talking about no more than 10 interceptors," Obering told journalists. "They would have no effect against hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads that the Russians have. ... They are not even in a proper position if we were concerned about Russian missiles."

Pro-Russian protesters temporarily interrupted a news briefing by Obering, chanting: "Yankee, go home" until they were dragged away by security guards.

"I'm very glad to see that democracy is alive and well" in Ukraine, Obering said after the disruption. Asked whether he had seen such opposition anywhere else, he quipped: "Only in my own country."

There are no plans to put any part of the missile defense system in Ukraine, but U.S. officials have said Ukrainian industry might be invited to cooperate on the military project.

Ukraine's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, has strongly hinted that he backs the plan, saying it would help create a unified defense system for Europe. But the more Russian-leaning prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, warned that deploying such a system near Ukraine's western borders could harm relations with its neighbors.

Obering met earlier with representatives of the Ukrainian Defense and Foreign ministries -- agencies allied with Yushchenko -- and was scheduled to meet with officials from Yanukovych's office later.

Under Ukraine's constitution, the president controls foreign policy, but Yanukovych has taken a bigger role in all foreign policy decisions.

Ukraine's government has said it would only give a formal opinion on the missile system after it learns more.

A major Ukrainian concern has been the potential for missile or interceptor components to land on Ukrainian territory, causing injuries here.