Monday, October 12, 2009

MOSCOW — A top Russian general aimed tough remarks at the United States on Monday before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit, reconfirming plans for multiple-warhead missiles and warning Washington that refitting rockets with conventional warheads would raise the risk of nuclear war.

Lt. Gen. Andrei Shvaichenko’s comments, quoted by Russian news agencies, come as Moscow and Washington seek to negotiate a replacement for a 1991 arms control treaty that expires at the end of the year. It is a major element in their efforts to mend relations that were badly strained during the Bush administration.

Mrs. Clinton meets Tuesday with President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Her visit will test Russia’s willingness to cooperate on issues, including arms control and Iran’s nuclear program, in the wake of President Obama’s recent decision to scrap a missile-defense plan that Moscow vehemently opposed.

Gen. Shvaichenko’s words appeared designed to remind the United States of Russia’s nuclear might and press it to heed Moscow’s concerns.

Gen. Shvaichenko, commander of the Strategic Missile Forces, reiterated that Russia will begin deploying RS-24 missiles with multiple warheads in December, the same month that the START I treaty expires.

The United States has said the missiles would violate a treaty provision against adding multiple warheads to existing single-warhead missiles, but Russia asserts it is a new missile.

“Putting RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles in service will strengthen (Russia’s) combat capabilities,” ITAR-Tass quoted Gen. Shvaichenko as saying at the force’s headquarters outside Moscow. He said the first deployment of the missiles would be in the Ivanovo province, northeast of the capital.

Reaching a deal to replace the treaty before it expires would be a strong sign of solidarity after years of acrimony.

But there are no guarantees. Pressing Russia’s position on another prickly issue, Gen. Shvaichenko criticized plans aired during the Bush administration to fit some U.S. strategic missiles with conventional non-nuclear warheads, saying the launch of such missiles could provoke a mistaken nuclear strike in retaliation.

A state that detected such a missile heading in its direction “would determine the risk it faced according to a worst-case scenario,” RIA Novosti quoted Gen. Shvaichenko as saying — meaning that it likely would respond with nuclear weapons. He said such a shift “would seriously undermine … international security as a whole.”

The U.S. State Department declined immediate comment on Gen. Shvaichenko’s remarks.

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