MOSCOW, Oct 3 (Reuters) Russia's military space commander vowed to retaliate with an arms race if any country started putting weapon systems into orbit, he said in remarks published today.
''We need to have strong rules about space, to avoid its militarisation and if any country will place a weapon in space, then our response will be the same,'' Space Forces Commander Colonel-General Vladimir Popovkin told the newspaper Trud.
Popovkin's remarks were the latest in a series of increasingly assertive statements from the Russian military, which is alarmed at what it sees as a growing hardware imbalance with the West.
Stung by NATO expansion up to Russia's borders, President Vladimir Putin has given notice that Russia intends to pull out of a treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe.
Tensions between Russia and Washington have deepened over US plans to rekindle the stalled ''Star Wars'' programme from the 1980s with a new generation of missile defence shields.
Popovkin said no country had the right to declare itself the master of space, so strike forces shouldn't be deployed there.
He avoided naming names but his comments follow growing friction over space between Moscow, Washington and Beijing.
Earlier this year China tested an anti-satellite missile and the US has been developing weapons which can hit satellites.
Russia has more than 60 military and dual-purpose satellites in orbit for communications and intelligence, Popovkin said.
Russia's space forces have responsibility for military and dual-use spacecraft launch as well as helping defend the country from hostile intercontinental missile attacks.
Although the forces were left blind in some areas after the break-up of the Soviet Union, they were now reorganised, Popovkin said.
''In 2009, we'll begin testing a new generation satellite.
Already, Russia can detect any ballistic missile being launched from earth towards Russia,'' he said.
REUTERS SKB RN1744