By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow has pressed for binding guarantees that a European missile shield would not weaken its nuclear arsenal, saying on Friday that the system now planned by the United States could threaten Russia's security after 2015.
Days before he meets with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, President Dmitry Medvedev reiterated his warning of a return to the Cold War if the United States and NATO do not give Russia enough input in the creation of a missile defense system.
"Let us agree now what kind of a system it will be," Medvedev said at an international legal forum in St. Petersburg.
"And if we do not agree, what we will get is Europe in the early 1980s," he added -- a time when the standoff between two nuclear armed superpowers clouded the continent. "I don't want to live in that Europe and I hope you don't either."
Stern remarks by Russia's top general to foreign military attaches seemed aimed to add to the pressure on the United States and its allies ahead of Medvedev's meetings with Obama and European leaders at a G8 summit in France next week.
U.S. assurances that the shield it is planning would not threaten Russia "are so far nothing but groundless declarations," said General Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the armed forces general staff.
As part of a successful push to improve ties with Moscow, Obama scrapped plans for long-range, Poland-based interceptor missiles in 2009. Last November, Medvedev agreed to a NATO offer of cooperation on missile defense.
But the alliance has given the cold shoulder to Medvedev's proposal for a "sectoral" system dividing the continent into Russian and NATO zones of responsibility, balking at the idea of leaving protection of parts of its territory to Russia.
Moscow says Washington is pushing ahead with its own plans despite talks on cooperation producing little progress.
"It's a paradox: we were invited into organizing this, and now that we have agreed, the opposite is happening. We are being told, 'We will do our thing and you do yours,'" Makarov said.
Russia has also stepped up criticism of Obama's scaled-back plan for gradual deployment of shorter-range interceptor missiles, based on land and sea, by 2020.
The United States says the shield is meant to protect against the developing threat of a missile attack by Iran.
But Makarov reiterated statements that it could upset the balance of power between the Cold War foes if interceptors capable of shooting down Russian nuclear missiles are deployed.
Russian military officials who spoke at the meeting said that could happen after the expected completion in 2015 of the second phase of the four-phase U.S. program.
"We will be happy with any option that ... does not threaten Russia's nuclear forces," Makarov said. "So far, we see no such option."
"The ball is in the Americans' court," he said.
(Editing by Michel Rose)