updated 11/20/2004 9:52:24 AM ET 2004-11-20T14:52:24

Russia’s new nuclear missile system is purely defensive and part of the country’s program to upgrade its military, Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said the country is developing a new “state-of-the-art” nuclear missile system unlike any weapon held by other countries. He said it will be deployed “in the near future” but gave no details.

“It’s a military issue, of course,” Fedotov told The Associated Press on Friday when asked about the new missiles. “Any armed forces needs a kind of upgrading, so it’s a natural process.”

'It's totally defensive'
The Russian minister was asked why the country was trying to improve its nuclear capabilities at a time when the international community is working to get countries like North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear programs.

“Of course it is necessary to improve missile system in order to avoid any accidents. This is standard procedure,” Fedotov said.

Fedotov said that “as everything we have, it’s totally defensive.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush and Putin had discussed the issue previously. He suggested that close ties between the two leaders makes alarm unnecessary. But he didn’t eliminate Washington’s concern.

“We have a very different relationship than we did in the Cold War,” he said. “The fact that we do have a good relationship enables us to speak very directly to our Russian friends.”

Plain speaking
Christopher Langton, head of defense analysis at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Putin’s comments appeared to be the first time that Russian officials had spoken publicly about a new deterrent, though he had no idea what the system might be.

Putin has made clear that improving the armed forces, which declined after the breakup of the Soviet Union, is a priority. In the past year, Russia defense officials have made several announcements about new weapons.

Fedotov was in New York for a series of meetings and to introduce a General Assembly resolution to commemorate next year’s 60th anniversary of the end of fighting in World War II’s European theater.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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