Russia and China are looking to cooperate on a response to the U.S. missile defense program, a top Russian general said on Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir, who serves as the First Deputy Head of the Main Operations Department at the Russian General Staff, accused the U.S. military of developing the missile defense system to plan for the launch of nuclear strikes, according to statements made at a security summit in Beijing reported by the Associated Press and Russian media outlets.
"The missile defense system considerably shifts the balance of offensive weapons, allowing the planning of a more efficient pre-emptive strike," Poznikhir said Tuesday.
"Russian military experts believe that the U.S. hopes to gain the capability to strike any region of the world, including Russia and China, with nuclear-tipped missiles with impunity," the general added.
Poznikhir said that the U.S. would first launch a strike and then use the missile shield to defend against missiles fired in retaliation from other territories. He likened the situation to a confrontation between "gladiators."
"If one of the gladiators takes up a shield, it will give him a marked advantage and make him think that he would be able to win, particularly if he strikes first," the Russian general said. "What would another gladiator do? Naturally, he also would pick up a shield and also a longer and stronger sword. This is what happening now as a result of the U.S. missile deployment."
Poznikhir said that Moscow would work with Beijing to thwart threats posed by U.S. missile defense. He noted that Russia and China have taken steps to counter the U.S. missile defense program but did not offer details. He also cited the joint military drills that Russia and China recently held in the South China Sea, which included exercises aimed at defending against missile strikes.
The U.S. has said that its missile defense program is largely aimed at defending against threats from North Korea and Iran, which Poznikhir disputed on Tuesday.
"Under the pretext of countering the North Korean and Iranian ‘missile threats,’ the system intended primarily for engaging Russian and Chinese missiles is being developed," the general said.
The comments are the latest sign of rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, in the wake of disagreements over the conflict in Syria and a suspension of communications between the two nations on the subject.
The U.S. government also formally accused Russia last week of interfering with the American presidential election by hacking into U.S. political institutions.