Russia has halted a plan to retaliate against a proposed US missile defence shield by stationing its own missiles near Europe's borders, a Russian news agency quoted the military as saying today.
The suspension of plans to deploy tactical missiles in the Western outpost of Kaliningrad, if confirmed, would show Russia is extending an olive branch to President Barack Obama after rocky relations under his predecessor.
"If true, this would of course be a very positive step," a spokeswoman quoted the US envoy to NATO, Kurt Volker, as saying in reference to the Russian report.
Obama spoke to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by telephone on Monday, their first contact since the US inauguration, and the two men agreed to stop the "drift" in their countries' relations, the White House said yesterday.
Medvedev had said in November he was ordering the deployment of Iskander missile systems to Kaliningrad, which borders European Union members Poland and Lithuania, in response to Washington's plan for a missile shield in Europe.
"The implementation of these plans has been halted in connection with the fact that the new US administration is not rushing through plans to deploy" elements of its missile defence shield in eastern Europe, Interfax quoted an unnamed official in the Russian military's general staff as saying.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Russian military that the Iskander deployment was being suspended.
The issue is likely to be on the agenda if, as expected, Medvedev and Obama meet on April 2 on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in London.
"It (the suspension of missile deployment) is a signal to Obama of Moscow's goodwill," Yevgeny Volk, an analyst in Moscow with the Heritage Foundation think tank, told Reuters.
"In response they want a decision not to deploy the missile defence shield in eastern Europe."
Some observers believe the Kremlin may be softening its assertive foreign policy style because the economic slowdown - which has seen the rouble lose about a quarter of its value since July - has dented its confidence.
US policy shift
The administration of former US President George W. Bush angered the Kremlin with its push to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.
It said the system was needed to protect from potential missile strikes by what it called "rogue states" - specifically Iran and North Korea.
The White House has not announced any change of policy on the missile shield, but a nominee for a top Pentagon post in the Obama administration said this month the plan would be reviewed as part of a regular broad look at policy.
Russia has argued that the proposed system would threaten its own national security and was further evidence - along with the eastward expansion of the NATO alliance - of Western military influence encroaching near its borders.
The threat of deploying the Iskander missiles was largely symbolic because, military analysts said, Russia does not have enough operational missile systems to station in Kaliningrad.
The row over the shield has helped drive diplomatic ties between Moscow and Washington to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.
But Russian officials have said they are encouraged by early signals from the Obama administration and hopeful of a fresh start in their relations.
Since taking office, Obama has sent strong signals that he will try to repair foreign ties that were damaged under the Bush presidency.
In an acknowledgement of Washington's rocky relations with the Muslim world, Obama gave his first formal television interview as president to the Dubai-based Al Arabiya station and said the United States was willing to talk to Iran.Reuse content