Russia may deploy missiles in Belarus - general

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MOSCOW, Nov 14 (Reuters) Russia may deploy its newest Iskander tactical missiles in neighbouring Belarus in response to U.S. plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe, Russian media quoted a senior general as saying today.

Asked if the missiles could be deployed in response to the US shield, Major-General Vladimir Zaritsky, head of Russia's artillery and missile forces, was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass news agency: ''Why not? Under the right conditions and with the corresponding agreement of Belarus, it is possible.'' ''Any action inevitably causes a reaction,'' Zaritsky said.

''And this is just the case with the elements of US air defence in the Czech Republic and Poland.'' Washington plans to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic as part of a shield it says is designed to protect Europe from missile attacks by ''rogue states'' such as Iran and North Korea.

Russia has said this would upset the strategic balance and pose a threat to its security. In July, Moscow proposed the two countries use the Russian-operated early warning Qabala radar in Azerbaijan as an alternative to the US missile shield.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Moscow last month the Qabala radar could not replace the US missile shield.

The Iskander missile is able to deliver a 480 kg conventional payload within a range of up to 400 km.

Zaritsky said Iskander missiles were now fully in line with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

But he stressed: ''Should Russia take a political decision to quit the INF treaty, we will boost the military capabilities of these missiles, including their range.'' Asked if Russia could eventually raise Iskander's range to over 500 km, which is banned by the INF treaty, Zaritsky said: ''Who knows what the motherland may order?' REUTERS ARB VC1830

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