MOSCOW -- Russia's top military officer has threatened to deal a pre-emptive strike on U.S.-led NATO missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe if Washington goes ahead with its controversial missile defense plan.
President Dmitry Medvedev said last year Russia will retaliate militarily if it does not reach agreement with the United States and NATO.
Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov on Thursday went further, raising the ante in the missile defense controversy.
"A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens," he said.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov also warned Thursday that talks between Moscow and Washington on the U.S.-led NATO missile defense plan in Europe are "close to a dead end."
Moscow rejects Washington's claim that the plan is solely to deal with any Iranian missile threat and has voiced fears it will eventually become powerful enough to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.
On Thursday, the start of a two-day conference with representatives from about 50 countries, a top Russian defense official reiterated Moscow's offer to run the missile shield together with NATO.
Russia's Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said such a jointly run European missile defense system "could strengthen security of every single country of the continent" and "would be adequate to possible threats and will not deter strategic security."
NATO has said it wants to cooperate with Russia on the missile shield, but the alliance has rejected Moscow's proposal to run it jointly.
NATO's deputy secretary general, Alexander Vershbow, told the conference Thursday morning that the U.S.-led missile shield is "not and will not be directed against Russia" and that its intercontinental ballistic missiles are "too fast and too sophisticated" for the planned system to intercept.
The conference in Moscow is the last major Russia-U.S. meeting about military issues before a NATO summit in Chicago later this month.
Russia hasn't said whether it will send top officials there. Without a NATO-Russia cooperation deal, the Kremlin has sought guarantees from the U.S. that any future missile defense is not aimed at Russia as well as threatening to retaliate if no such deal is negotiated.
U.S. missile defense plans in Europe have been one of the touchiest subjects in U.S.-Russian relations going back to the administration of President Barack Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.
The Obama administration tried in 2009 ease tensions with Russia by saying it would revamp Bush's plan to emphasize shorter-range interceptors. Russia initially welcomed that move, but has more recently suggested that the new interceptors could threaten its missiles as the U.S. interceptors are upgraded.
Russia recently threatened to target missiles at the U.S. missile defense systems in Europe and just commissioned a radar in Kaliningrad, near the Polish border, capable of monitoring missile launches from Europe and the North Atlantic.
The missile defense plans follow a "phased-adaptive" approach using Aegis radars and interceptors on ships and a more powerful radar based in Turkey in the first phase, followed by radar and interceptor facilities in Romania and Poland.
U.S. Senator John McCain on a visit to Lithuania lashed out at Russia's plans of what he described as a military build-up in Kaliningrad, Russia's westernmost point.
McCain said using missile defense as "excuse to have a military buildup in this part of the world, which is at peace, is really an egregious example of what might be even viewed as paranoia on the part of Vladimir Putin."
By MANSUR MIROVALEV
Gary Peach from Vilnius, Lithuania, has contributed to this report.
The Associated Press