( UNIAN ) - A senior U.S. general said that the Pentagon`s planned missile defense system in Europe would be useless against Russia`s vast arsenal of warheads, and expressed hope that Moscow`s opposition to the initiative would eventually soften, according to an AP Worldstream article by Mara D.Bellaby.
Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, spoke during a two-day visit to Ukraine to explain U.S. plans to put a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor site in Poland to guard against potential attacks from Iran, a project that has angered Russia and received a mixed reaction in this ex-Soviet republic.
"We are talking about no more than 10 interceptors," Obering told journalists. "They would have no effect against hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads that the Russians have. ... They are not even in a proper position if we were concerned about Russian missiles."
Pro-Russian protesters interrupted a news briefing by Obering, chanting: "Yankee, go home" until they were forcibly dragged out by security guards.
"I`m very glad to see that democracy is alive and well" in Ukraine, Obering said after the brief disruption. Asked if he`d seen such opposition anywhere else, he quipped: "Only in my own country."
There are no plans to put any part of the missile defense system in Ukraine - a move that would enrage Russia - but U.S. officials have said that Ukrainian industry might be invited to cooperate on the military project.
Ukraine`s pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko has strongly hinted that he backs the plan, saying that it would help create a unified defense system for Europe. "We are talking about Ukraine`s solidarity with countries that are developing a defense policy. It`s not a policy of conflict,"
Yushchenko later told Ukraine`s ICTV and state television in an interview. "Why should Ukraine condemn a nation for taking the right decision?"
But the more Russian-leaning Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych warned that deploying such a system near Ukraine`s western borders could harm Ukraine`s relations with its neighbors.
Under the constitution, the president controls foreign policy, but Yanukovych has taken a bigger role in all foreign policy decisions. Ukraine`s government has said it would only give a formal opinion after it learns more.
A major concern has been the potential for missile or interceptor components to land on Ukrainian territory, causing injuries here.
Obering said the interception process releases a "tremendous amount of energy .. destroying almost the entire warhead and interceptor. That is why we want to use this `hit to kill` technology."
He said that an Iranian missile could fly over Ukrainian or Russian territory, but that debris from a destroyed missile "will not fall on Ukraine or Russian territory."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he does not trust U.S. claims that the missile defense sites were targeted at a potential Iranian missile threat and has warned that Moscow could be forced to take countermeasures.
Obering said that Russia has been invited to visit interceptor sites in the United States, and if the host European countries agreed, "we would extend that invitation to those sites in Europe."
"I hope that our ongoing engagement with the Russians will hopefully mitigate some of their concerns," he said. "They will be understanding that these sites in no way represent a threat to them."
Obering said the missile plan also includes a mobile radar site that would have to be located closer to Iran, but he said because the defense system wouldn`t be operational for another four to five years, there is time to decide where to locate that.
He said that no countries in the Caucasus - three ex-Soviet republics in which Russia and the West are vying for influence - had been asked to participate.