Russia mulls arms in Belarus to counter U.S. shield
MINSK (Reuters) - Russia may consider deploying strategic bombers or station tactical missiles in its close ally Belarus as a counter-measure to a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe, Moscow's envoy to Minsk said on Wednesday.
The United States have unnerved Moscow by its plans to install elements of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a measure Washington believes is needed to avert possible missile strikes from Iran.
Moscow says U.S. plans pose a threat to Russia's national security.
"Once Poland has signed an agreement with the American side on deployment of elements of the missile defense there, we will be able to discuss some additional aspects of our military and technical cooperation with Belarus," Russia's ambassador in Belarus, Alexander Surikov, told a news conference.
"The (Russian) military are talking of strategic bombers and Iskander systems," he said. "Probably, some actions will be taken, albeit without Belarus regaining its nuclear status."
All communist-era nuclear weapons were withdrawn from Belarus after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Top Russian generals had earlier speculated that Moscow could deploy its new Iskander-M tactical surface-to surface missiles to counter the U.S. missile shield.
Military experts in Moscow have also said Russian strategic bombers would not even have to cross the borders of Russia or Belarus to successfully launch cruise missiles and reduce the planned missile defense in Eastern Europe to rubble.
Surikov ruled out the possibility of deploying Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; edited by Richard Meares)