The Russian military has told the Czech Republic that hosting a US missile defence shield would be a "big mistake" and has urged Prague to delay its decision on the system.
The warning came as Russia prepared to hold talks next month with the US on Moscow's offer to share use of a radar station in Azerbaijan, officials said on Tuesday.
The Czech Republic is considering whether to allow Washington to build a radar station on its territory
The United States says the system is designed to intercept and destroy missiles from "rogue states" but which Moscow sees it as a threat to its security.
"We say it will be a big mistake by the Czech government to put this radar site on Czech territory," Yuri Baluyevsky, the Russian military chief of staff, told reporters after meeting Martin Bartak, the Czech deputy minister of defence.
He suggested that the Czech Republic should hold off making a decision on the radar station until after the US presidential election, scheduled for late 2008, which would see George Bush replaced.
"A decision will be made by the Czech side only after the evaluation of all conditions, technical and otherwise," Baluyevsky said.
|"We say it will be a big mistake by |
the Czech government to put this radar site on Czech territory"
Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian military chief of staff
"I and my Russian colleagues simply ask that that process continue through to October-November of 2008, and I think you can all guess why."
Asked by a reporter to clarify, he said: "I do not exclude that a new administration in the United States will re-evaluate the current administration's decisions on missile defence."
Bartak said his government had not yet made a decision.
The missile shield is the latest in a series of moves by Moscow's former Warsaw pact allies to embrace Nato, effectively moving the West's military capabilities closer to Russia.
Meanwhile, the Azeri foreign minister announced on Tuesday that Russia is planning to meet with US officials on the joint use of a radar station it leases in Azerbaijan.
"There will be consultations at the start of September between the Russian, American and Azeri sides on the Qabala radar station. We are now discussing the details of the best format for all of this," Elmar Mamedyarov, the Azeri foreign minister said.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, offered the US military use of the radar station as part of a counter-proposal to Washington's plans to locate elements of a missile defence shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.
The US says its shield is designed to protect from rocket attacks launched by "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea.
The Soviet-built Qabala radar station is in northeast Azerbaijan, about 200km from neighbouring Iran.
Putin's offer was conditional on Washington scrapping its missile shield plans. Bush had said that the proposal was "innovative" but his officials made clear it was not a substitute for their radar deployment plans in Europe.
Meanwhile, Putin vowed on Tuesday to revive Russia's aviation industry as he opened an airshow aimed at showcasing the country's industrial and military ambitions.
Putin, who looked on as two dozen military jets, passenger planes and helicopters roared past him in acrobatic formation, last week ordered Russian strategic bombers to resume Soviet-era permanent air patrols over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
|Putin called for Russia to maintain "supremacy|
in producing military aircraft" [AFP]
Many observers see the move as a sign of Russia's growing assertiveness.
The military, which as part of that trend is receiving a major injection of cash to modernise ageing equipment, is in line for more and newer planes.
"Russia ... faces the task of maintaining supremacy in producing military aircraft," Putin said at the opening of the MAKS-2007 airshow at Zhukovsky airbase east of Moscow, where one of the strategic bombers was on display.
"The show presents the unique potential of our country," Putin said, addressing participants from all main Russian producers and delegates from 110 countries.