Putin blasts US missile defense plan

Updated: 2007-05-24 06:01
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VIENNA, Austria - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday stood firm in his country's opposition to a US missile defense system, saying it could lead to "a new spiral in the arms race."

Putin also downplayed tensions with the European Union while both acknowledging that Russia should listen to outside criticism and cautioning others not to patronize Moscow on human rights issues.

The Russian leader's comments came at a joint news conference with Austrian President Heinz Fischer during an official visit that began Wednesday afternoon and wraps up Thursday.

Putin's trip also had a distinct business flavor, exemplified by an announcement late Tuesday that Russian and Austrian companies had signed a slew of contracts totaling more than $4 billion.

The US made a formal request in January to place a radar base in a Czech Republic military area southwest of Prague and 10 interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland as part of plans for a missile defense shield that Washington says would protect against a potential threat from Iran or North Korea.

"What is happening in Europe that is so negative that one has to arm Eastern Europe with these new weapons?" Putin asked reporters.

"It won't lead to anything but a new spiral in the arms race," he said. "We consider this totally counterproductive and are trying to demonstrate this to our partners."

Putin noted that the reach of Iranian missiles was not enough to hit Europe. "There are no sensible arguments, no sensible reasons" for the plan, he said.

The Russian leader did not comment on the British government's move to seek the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, a suspect in the poisoning death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Putin also said he and Fischer had talked about last week's tense summit with European leaders in Samara, Russia.

"I don't think we have particular problems with the EU," Putin said, adding that Russia has always had difficulties with its immediate neighbors and that its past - the Soviet Union - was to blame.

With EU expansion, problems between Russia and some of its neighbors have now become issues on a European level, Putin said, adding this didn't contribute to "the rapid development of relations."

In response to a reporter's question about human rights, Putin said Russia should listen to international criticism but noted that unjustified arrests and beating incidents also happened elsewhere.

"I think we in Russia must listen to criticism brought against us," Putin said, but added that patronizing by others was "not acceptable."

Putin, who heads to Luxembourg on Thursday, was accompanied to Vienna by a high-powered delegation, including aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska and Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom.