Source AP ©

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev criticizes U.S. missile defense system plan

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev criticized Washington's plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, saying it could threaten international security.

The United States plans to place a radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland as part of a missile defense shield it says would protect against a potential threat from Iran. Moscow doesn't trust Washington's claims, saying the shield or its technology could be used to spy on Russia or pre-empt a strategic missile launch.

In comments on Ekho Moskvy radio, Gorbachev echoed remarks made by President Vladimir Putin, saying Washington's reasoning for the system was suspicious.

"Moreover, it is being done somehow insinuatingly, without discussion. Apparently it's an attempt to use the superpower status to scare and pressure everyone to the left and to the right," Gorbachev said. "I think it's mischief of the political elite, first of all of the political elite of the United States."

Gorbachev who as Soviet president signed several landmark arms control treaties with the United States called for further limiting and eventually eliminating all nuclear weapons.

He said, however, that Washington's plans could spur other countries, including Russia, into an arms race.

"If the anti-missile defense system continues to be deployed, it is a weapon with nuclear warheads ... and the question of who these missiles are aimed at has not been solved," Gorbachev said. "When we are talking about nuclear weapons, about strategic weapons in general, there is a proverb: 'Trust, but verify."'

Relations between Washington and Moscow have soured recently over a number of issues, including the U.S. missile defense plans and Washington's growing criticism of Russia's democratic backsliding ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.