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Nato slams Moscow's war rhetoric

VILNIUS: Nato states asked Moscow to "lower the tone of rhetoric" yesterday after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of a new "arms race" between Russia and the West.

Nato and Russia have "all the avenues and channels to talk in a productive and friendly way and we should take advantage of those and not engage in unnecessarily heated rhetoric," spokesman said after a meeting of the Nato-Russia council in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Earlier, in a speech setting out the long-term priorities of his hand-picked successor ahead of next month's presidential polls, Putin heralded a wealthy Russia able to compete in a new "arms race".

Several Nato countries also asked "for pre-warning from the Russian federation when they intend to send military equipment like bombers near the airspace of allies", spokesman said.

Russia does "have the right to fly into international airspace but allies do want a confidence note from the Russian federation before they do that," he added.

Putin announced the resumption of long-range flights in international air space last summer. Such flights were standard during the Cold War but were abandoned in 1992 amid financial difficulties after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Russian Defence Minister Anatoli Serdioukov did not attend the council meeting Friday, and was replaced by his deputy.

Nato Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the Russian had fallen ill.

Separately, the US maintained its missile shield programme was the antithesis of the Cold War arms race, responding to Putin's assertion that Moscow would respond to US weapons build-up.

"Certainly this is the antithesis of the kinds of arms building that you have seen in the past," a spokesman said.

"It is a small and limited system and its nature poses absolutely no threat to Russia's strategic interests or strategic forces".

Putin had suggested that while Russia gave up bases in Cuba and Vietnam it was now facing new US presence on its borders, from bases to the planned missile shield.

"I think we have been through a very fortunate period between the US and Russia in which both sides have drastically lowered their arsenals below the level that they were in the Cold War," spokesman added.

We certainly continue to work well with the Russian government on these kinds of issues as well as on trying to prevent things like proliferation in places like North Korea and Iran. So I am not sure what he is referring to, he said.

Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he had failed to talk Russia out of its plan to build a gas pipeline to Germany bypassing his nation.

Tusk, seeking to thaw ties between the two erstwhile Cold War allies, also said that Russia - albeit without enthusiasm - had accepted Poland's right to host a US missile shield.

"The most important thing for me was a very tough declaration by all of my Russian partners that Nord Stream will not negatively affect gas supplies for Poland, and that Amber might in the future be interesting for Russia,' Tusk said before leaving Moscow.

"But when you ask me if I managed to talk Russians out of the Nord Stream project, then the answer is no."

Apart from ecological concerns about the pipeline to be laid on the Baltic seabed, Warsaw fears Nord Stream bypassing its territory would enable Russia to cut off crucial gas supplies to the country, while continuing to deliver to Western Europe.



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