VLADIMIR PUTIN has threatened to aim Russian missiles at Europe once again if the U.S.
presses ahead with its plans to build a missile defence shield near his borders.
The Russian president said his country was willing to make the move, even though it risked restarting the Cold War with the U.S.
Washington claims its shield is designed to protect against possible attacks from 'rogue states' such as Iran and North Korea.
But Mr Putin poured scorn on the explanation.' There are no Iranian missiles with the necessary range,' he said. 'So it becomes obvious that this innovation is about us Russians.' Russia has not expressly targeted its missiles at Europe since the end of the Cold War. Asked if it would do this again if the missile shield project went ahead, Mr Putin said: 'Yes, naturally.
'If the American nuclear capability widens across European territory, we will have to give ourselves new targets in Europe.
'The system of missile defence on one side and the absence of this system on the other...increases the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict.' Mr Putin's tough words in an Italian newspaper interview will give an edge to Wednesday's G8 summit in Germany, where he will come face to face with President Bush.
He insisted: 'We are not in favour of confrontation.
We are in favour of a dialogue.
'We do not rule out that our U.S. partners could review their decision. But if that does not happen, we lift from ourselves any responsibility for the steps we take in response because we are not the ones who are initiating the looming arms race in Europe.' Mr Putin said no one country should be allowed to dictate its views to others.
'Certain participants in the international arena assume that their opinion is the ultimate truth. That, naturally, does not help create an atmosphere of trust.' He also warned that Russia might withdraw from international agreements to reduce conventional forces. He said: 'We have brought all our heavy weapons beyond the Urals and reduced our military forces by 300,000.
'But what do we have in return? We see that Eastern Europe is being filled with new equipment, two positions in Bulgaria and Romania, as well as radar in the Czech Republic and missile systems in Poland. …