Russia will be forced to make a military response if a U.S.-Czech Republic missile defense agreement is ratified, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.The statement came hours after U.S. and Czech officials reached an initial agreement on deploying elements of a missile defense system in the Eastern European country.
About 1,000 people gathered in the Czech capital, Prague, to protest the deal with banners bearing slogans such as "It's not over yet," and "Condoleezza is not welcome!"
Protest organizer Jan Tamas said: "The agreement between the Czech and the U.S. government is consistent with the attitude of Czech government which completely ignores the will of about 70 percent of Czech population."
He added: "We believe it's not right for a democratic society when the government goes clearly against the will of the majority of people and that's why we're here today to protest against that."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg signed the initial agreement but it still has to be approved by parliament.
"I believe there will be enough members of parliament who are aware of their responsibility and will vote for the agreement," Schwarzenberg said.
Russia says the system would severely undermine European security balances by weakening Russia's missile capacity.
If the agreement is ratified, "we will be forced to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods," the Foreign Ministry statement said. It did not give specifics of what the response would entail.
In February, then-President Vladimir Putin said Russia could aim missiles toward prospective missile defense sites and deploy missiles in the Baltic Sea region of Kaliningrad, which borders Poland, if the plan went forward.
The U.S. has pushed the plan as necessary to prevent missile attacks by rogue nations, pointing to Iran as a particular concern. But Russia dismisses the likelihood of such threats.
"We face with the Iranians, and so do our allies and friends, a growing missile threat that is growing ever longer and ever deeper and where the Iranian appetite for nuclear technology to this point is still unchecked," Rice said after signing the Czech agreement.
The proposed U.S. missile defense system calls for a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland.
Talks with Poland had bogged down recently over Polish demands for billions of dollars worth of U.S. military aid, in part to deter a possible strike from Russia.
Largely untested, expensive and unpopular among large majorities of the former East Bloc nations where it would be based, the theoretical missile shield also represents a potential foreign policy success that the Bush administration could pocket in its waning months.
The Bush administration is trying to arrange deals before President Bush leaves office in January.
Building the system will take years and the winner of this fall's U.S. presidential election will have to decide whether to go ahead with the project. Republican John McCain is a supporter; Democrat Barack Obama has been more circumspect.