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Russia: Vladimir Putin issues missile warning to Ukraine


Russian president Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine yesterday that he
will aim nuclear missiles at it if the former Soviet republic joins
Nato and accepts a U.S. anti-missile shield on its territory.

It was his strongest warning to date about Kiev's efforts to join the
Western alliance.

The unexpected outburst followed what had apparently been four hours
of civil talks with Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko at the

The two leaders settled a row over Ukraine's gas bills, minutes
before a Moscow-imposed deadline on Kiev to pay up or face supply
cuts which could have had a knock-on effect in Western Europe.

But Mr Putin then warned that Ukraine's aspirations to join Nato
would restrict its sovereignty.

Membership would "lead to real consequences - bases, the missile
shield, which we believe has as its aim the neutralisation of our
nuclear missile capability, and which presents Russia with the need
to take retaliatory measures".

He added: "It's frightening not just to talk about, but even to think
about, that in response to such deployment, the possibility of such
deployments - and one can't theoretically exclude these deployments -
that Russia will have to point its warheads at Ukrainian territory."

Mr Yushchenko responded by saying that Ukraine has the right to form
its own foreign and defence policies, and noted that the Ukrainian
constitution does not allow for foreign bases on its territory.

He insisted that Ukraine's actions were not directed at any other
country, including Russia.

Moscow has long been concerned about Nato expansion into the former
Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as former
Soviet bloc countries.

U.S. plans to deploy missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech
Republic have been branded a threat to Russia's security by the

Mr Putin has said Russia could aim weapons toward prospective missile
defence sites and deploy its own missiles in its Baltic Sea enclave
of Kaliningrad.

Nato membership is a highly controversial issue in Ukraine, where
opinion polls show over half of the country opposes it. But Mr
Yushchenko has declared the move a priority.

In Kiev last night, some politicians reacted strongly to Mr Putin's

"If he is afraid, then fear will prevent him from taking
illconsidered steps against Ukraine," said former defence minister
Anatoly Gritsenko, who is a senior member of Mr Yushchenko's party.

"We are an independent state and will make our decisions regardless
of what others say."

Despite Mr Putin's tough talk on Nato, the Kremlin later announced
that he has accepted an invitation to an meeting of the alliance in
Romania in early April, which is expected to take the first step
towards admitting Ukraine.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: "This is yet another
demonstration of Russia's openness on all issues.

"Strategic partnership between Russia and the European Union could
become one of the pillars of the new Europe, without dividing lines."

Analysts said Putin may now take a more conciliatory approach to
relations with Nato.

Re: Russia: Vladimir Putin issues missile warning to Ukraine

Didn't Russia say the same sort of thing to Poland and the Czech republic recently?