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Top Russian general calls U.S. expansion top national security threat

The Associated PressPublished: February 9, 2007

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MOSCOW: Russia's top military officer said the United States is expanding its economic, political and military presence in Russia's traditional zones of influence, and described it as the top national security threat, in the latest signal of a growing chill in U.S.-Russian relations.

Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian military's General Staff, said Russia now faces even greater military threats than during the Cold War and that the nation needs a new military doctrine to respond to these challenges, according to a speech posted on the Defense Ministry's Web site Friday.

"Russia's cooperation with the West on the basis of forming common or close strategic interests hasn't helped its military security," Baluyevsky said in the speech, delivered at a recent security conference in Moscow . "Moreover, the situation in many regions of the world which are vitally important for Russia and near its borders has sometimes become more difficult."

Russian-U.S. ties have worsened steadily over disagreements on Iraq and other global crises, and U.S. concerns about an increasingly authoritarian streak in Russia's domestic policy and strong-arming of ex-Soviet neighbors.

Baluyevsky referred to what he called "the U.S. military leadership's course aimed at maintaining its global leadership and expanding its economic, political and military presence in Russia's traditional zones of influence" as a top threat for Russia's national security.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reacted angrily to U.S. plans to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying Moscow doesn't trust U.S. claims they were aimed to counter missile threats from Iran and will take relevant countermeasures. Both countries are former Soviet satellites that became NATO members.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meanwhile, said Russia would find an "intellectual response" to the U.S. move and not plunge into a new arms race, according to an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine posted on the ministry's Web site Friday.

Russian officials have assailed the United States and its NATO allies for their refusal to ratify an amended version of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty which regulates the deployment of military aircraft, tanks and other heavy non-nuclear weapons around the continent.

Russia has ratified the amended version of the treaty signed in 1999, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to do that until Russia abides by its commitment to withdraw troops from the ex-Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia.

Russia said the link was irrelevant, and threatened to opt out of the treaty.

In remarks posted Friday, Lavrov said that the failure to ratify the amended document had "led to very serious imbalances between the armed forces," since the arsenals of former Soviet allies which that have joined NATO were counted alongside Soviet weapons in the original 1990 CFE Treaty.

Amid growing distrust of U.S. intentions, Russia's lawmakers and commentators reacted nervously to comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates naming Russia as a potential threat.

"We don't know what's going to develop in places like Russia and China, in North Korea, in Iran and elsewhere," Gates told a House of Representatives committee meeting earlier this week, according to a Pentagon transcript.

The daily newspaper Gazeta on Friday said that Gates' statement could "go down to history books as a starting point for a new twist of the Cold War."

Viktor Ozerov, the head of the defense committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said Gates' comments signaled "U.S. attempts to draw our nation into a new arms race," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. "We will have to find an asymmetrical response."