Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned the United States that its plans to deploy a unilateral missile defence in Europe will trigger a new Cold War arms race.

If the U.S. rejects the Russian offer to cooperate on missile defences for Europe, Moscow would be forced to deploy new first-strike nuclear missiles and tear up the bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) the two countries signed last year, Mr. Medvedev told a rare press conference in Moscow on Wednesday.

“If we fail to agree we would have to take retaliatory measures… [and] speed up the development of the offensive potential of our nuclear capabilities. This would be a very bad scenario that would throw us back into the Cold War era,” said Mr. Medvedev.

The Russian leader stressed that missile defences was an “exceptionally important issue” for Russia.

“It could wreck all that we have achieved in recent years, including the momentous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” said Mr. Medvedev.

He was speaking a day after a top Russian missile commander announced the deployment of new-generation long-range nuclear missiles capable of defeating any current or future missile defences.

The RS-24 Yars multiple-warhead long-range mobile missile has the capacity to “penetrate highly protective targets” while being invulnerable to missile interceptors being developed by the U.S., Strategic Missile Forces Commander Lieutenant-General Sergei Karakayev told a media briefing in Moscow.

“The new missile is unassailable on the ground thanks to its mobility and will pierce any missile defences that can be developed over the next 15-20 years,” said the commander.

The solid-fuel RS-24 has more powerful engines, reduced weight and can perform sharp manoeuvres during the boost phase to dodge missile interceptors.

The missile's multiple warheads have a greatly reduced radar imprint thanks to a new heat-absorbing coating and are protected by active jammers and new heavy decoys that are impossible to distinguish from the warheads. During the final phase of the flight after re-entry into the atmosphere, the warheads evade interception thanks to high speed and ability to manoeuvre, said Lieutenant-General Karakayev.

The Russian missile is effectively a first-strike weapon that could trigger a new missile race between the former Cold War adversaries.

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