2 Leaders Rebuff Russia’s Nuclear Threats

MOSCOW, Feb. 20 — Officials in the Czech Republic and Poland vowed Tuesday that they would not be intimidated by Russia, a day after a general in Moscow declared that nuclear weapons could be aimed at their countries if they allowed the Bush administration to build ballistic missile defenses within their borders.
Russia has reacted with open hostility to the plan, which comes on the heels of further NATO expansion onto the territory of the former Soviet Union.
On Monday, the commander of Russia’s missile forces said he was ready to re-aim nuclear weapons so they would be trained on the missile defense sites chosen in Eastern Europe.
“It is clearly an attempt to intimidate,” Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said on Polish radio.
The Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, said, “The Czechs will now think the shield is even more necessary,” according to a Reuters report.
“We have quite an experience with Russians,” he said. “You have to make clear to them you won’t succumb to blackmail. Once you give in to blackmail, there’s no going back.”
The American plan calls for a radar site in the Czech Republic and a missile battery in Poland, with the stated aim of countering threats from rogue states like Iran or North Korea. Mr. Kaczynski and his Czech counterpart, Mirek Topolanek, said Monday that they were prepared to accept the offer from the United States.
The dispute is another sign of how quickly relations between Russia and Eastern Europe have been disrupted, descending this week and last into ominous talk of nuclear and military leverage reminiscent of the cold war.
The Russian missile commander, Gen. Nikolai Y. Solovtsov, speaking of the Czech Republic and Poland’s consideration of the American plan, said, “If the government of Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries make this decision — and I think mutual consultations that have been held and will be held will allow avoiding this — the strategic missile troops will be able to have those facilities as targets.
“Consequences in case of hostilities will be very grave for both sides,” he said.
A NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, called the general’s threat “uncalled for.”
“The days of talk of targeting NATO territory or vice versa are long past us.” he said, Radio Free Europe reported. “This kind of extreme language is out of date.”
Just last week, Russia’s top general, Yuri N. Baluyevsky, the chief of the general staff, declared that Russia could withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev in 1987.
On Tuesday, General Solovtsov noted that while those missiles were scrapped under the treaty, Russia could quickly resume production. President Vladimir V. Putin set the tone in a speech on Feb. 10 in Munich, denouncing the projection of American power as “the world of one master, one sovereign.”
In the 1990s, Russia bristled, but always backed down, as NATO expanded. But under Mr. Putin, Russia has executed a more forceful foreign policy in Eastern Europe, though one focused on opening markets for Russian commodity exports and maintaining political influence in the former Soviet states.