President Dmitry Medvedev officially commissioned a new military early warning radar Tuesday, saying it shows Russia's readiness to respond to U.S. missile defense plans.
Medvedev added, however, that the massive radar in the Kaliningrad region could be integrated into a joint NATO-Russia missile shield if a cooperation agreement is reached.
Medvedev's visit to the facility in the Baltic region comes five days ahead of parliamentary elections, in which he leads the main Kremlin party. The muscle-flexing appears to be aimed at bolstering his image as a strong leader capable of protecting national interests.
"I hope that our Western partners will perceive this move as the first signal of our country's readiness to respond in kind to the threats the missile defense system is posing for our strategic nuclear forces," Medvedev said.
Russia sees the U.S. missile defense plans in Europe as a security challenge, even though Washington says they are aimed at a potential Iranian missile threat and can't pose a threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent.
In a televised address to the nation last week, Medvedev threatened to deploy missiles to Kaliningrad and other areas of Russia to be aimed at U.S. missile defense sites, if the U.S. and NATO fail to reach a deal assuaging Russian concerns.
A year ago, Moscow agreed to consider NATO's proposal to cooperate on the missile shield, but the talks have run into a deadlock over how the system should be operated. Russia has insisted that it should be run jointly, which NATO has rejected.
With no progress on a shared missile shield, Medvedev insisted that Russia wants firm and specific guarantees from Washington that its future missile defense potential will not be directed against Russia.
"We can't be satisfied with oral assurances that the system isn't aimed against Russia," Medvedev said Tuesday. "Regrettably, such oral statements don't guarantee the protection of our interests."
He mocked Washington's promises: "When they tell us: 'It's not against you,' I would like to say the following: 'Dear friends, the radar launched today isn't against you either. But it's for you and for fulfilling the tasks we have set.'"
Washington's missile defense plans have been a key irritant in U.S.-Russian relations since President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" plans that scared Moscow in the 1980s.
The current toughening of Moscow's rhetoric has posed a challenge to President Barack Obama's course for "resetting" relations with the Kremlin, which suffered badly under George W. Bush's administration.
The new radar is of the Voronezh-DM type, which Medvedev said is significantly cheaper than its Soviet-era predecessors. Similar facilities have been built in Lekhtusi near St. Petersburg and Armavir in southern Russia, and an improved version of it is under construction in Usolye in eastern Siberia.
Russian aerospace defense forces chief, Lt. Gen. Oleg Ostapenko, said the Kaliningrad radar will have a range of 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) and will be capable of monitoring missile launches from Europe and the North Atlantic.
The new radars will eventually replace the Soviet-built early warning facilities in former Soviet nations, including in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has said it would hike rent fees and Russia hasn't yet responded.