Putin orders strengthening of Russian military, intelligence operations abroad


(Gold9472: Brrrrrrrrr...)

The Associated Press
Published: July 25, 2007

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin vowed Wednesday to strengthen Russia's military capability and step-up spying abroad in response to U.S. plans to build missile defense sites and deploy troops in Eastern Europe.

"The situation in the world and internal political interests require the Foreign Intelligence Service to permanently increase its capabilities, primarily in the field of information and analytical support for the country's leadership," Putin said at a meeting with senior military and security officers in the Kremlin in remarks which were posted on the Kremlin's Web site.

The Foreign Intelligence Service is a successor agency to the KGB.

Putin did not identify specific nations as targets, but officials in the United States and Britain have said recently that Moscow has intensified its spying in those countries.

Putin said U.S. plans to station troops in Eastern Europe and Washington's intention to base missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic pose security challenges for Russia. Washington says the facilities are necessary to protect the U.S. and Europe from missiles launched by Iran or other rogue states.

Putin has proposed that the U.S. use a Soviet-built radar base in Azerbaijan for missile defense. U.S. officials have questioned whether the facility is technically compatible with American systems.

On Wednesday, Putin said Washington was stonewalling. "Alternative ways of protection from hypothetical missile threats which we proposed have been left unanswered," he said.

"All-round strengthening of our military forces is one of our indisputable priorities," Putin said, promising to continue equipping the military with new weapons.

Putin also criticized the United States and other NATO members for failing to ratify an amended version of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which limits the deployment of tanks, aircraft and other heavy non-nuclear weapons around the continent.

Earlier this month, Putin suspended Russia's participation in the treaty and threatened to withdraw from it completely if NATO nations do not ratify its amended version, which was signed in 1999, to reflect changes since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

NATO members have refused to do that until Russia withdraws its troops from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia.

Putin said the old version of the CFE treaty counted arsenals of former Soviet satellites and republics which are now NATO members as part of the Soviet bloc. In particular, it counted weapons in the ex-Soviet Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as part of what was the Soviet Baltic Military District. "May be I should appoint one of you as its commander?" Putin said wryly.

Russia's relations with the United States and other Western nations have grown increasingly acrimonious amid Western concerns that Russia is edging away from democracy and Kremlin suspicions about the West's intentions.