Poland and the Czech Republic could be targeted by Russian missiles if they host elements of the planned US missile defence system, the commander of Russia's strategic missile forces warned on Monday.
The warning came as both Warsaw and Prague signalled they were likely to respond positively to US requests for them to host anti-missile defence bases.
Germany also on Monday expressed concern about the stand-off over the missile defence project, with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister, criticising the US and Nato for not addressing Russia's worries over the system earlier. Russia continued to make clear its deep opposition to the system as General Nikolai Solovtsov warned that basing parts of it in eastern Europe risked undermining strategic stability.
"If the governments of Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries make this decision . . . [Russia's] strategic missile troops will be able to target those facilities," he said.
His comments come after criticisms of the project by Vladimir Putin, Russian president. General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian army, has warned that Moscow might withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty unless the US dropped its plans. The strategic missile forces commander echoed that threat yesterday, saying Russia could resume production of medium-range missiles within five or six years.
"We have all the documents, we have the technology, especially as the missiles used to be produced by existing enterprises.
Therefore resuming production, provided there are relevant decisions, will be easy enough," Gen Solovtsov said.
During a visit to Warsaw on Monday, Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, said Poland and the Czech Republic would have to undertake a large communication effort to explain the programme to Russia as well as to Germany and France – and to their own populations.
But he said it was "naïve" to suppose that the US had not consulted Russia over the project. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, his Polish counterpart, said the shield was "not aimed at any normal country".
"We will attempt to persuade the Russians that which is obvious and which they of course realise, that this is in no way an installation directed at them," he said.
Mr Kaczynski said: "We are jointly deeply convinced that important decisions concerning the security and future of our countries and Europe have to be taken – I'm speaking here of the shield."
The US state department did not comment on the Russian threat but said the defensive system it was developing with the Czech and Polish governments was in no way targeted at Russia.
"We have offered to co-operate with Russia on missile defence. We think we face a common set of threats emanating from the Middle East as well as other areas," a spokesman said.
Russia has dismissed US arguments that the shield – with tracking radar in the Czech Republic and missiles in Poland – is designed to allow Europe and the eastern US to intercept missiles launched from rogue nations in the Middle East.
Mr Steinmeier said in a newspaper interview: "Because the sites for the stationing [of the missile defence system] are quite near Russia, one should have talked about it with Russia beforehand."
Henning Riecke, security expert at Berlin's DGAP foreign affairs institute, said it was clear to the German government that Russia was not threatened by the proposed defence system, but Berlin was keen to maintain stable relations with Moscow.
Additional reporting by Krishna Guha in Washington