The chief of Russia's space forces has said that Moscow would follow suit if others deploy weapons in space. Col-Gen Vladimir Popovkin did not name any specific country, but he was clearly referring to US plans for space-based weapons, which the Kremlin had vociferously opposed.
"We don't want to wage a war in space, we don't want to gain dominance in space, but we won't allow any other nation to dominate space," Popovkin said in televised remarks. "If any country deploys weapons in space, then the laws of warfare are such that retaliatory weapons are certain to appear."
President Vladimir Putin has said that US plans for space-based weapons could trigger a new arms race. When China tested a 'satellite-killer' missile in January, Putin said that the move was in response to US plans for space-based weapons. Russia and China have strongly pushed for an international agreement banning space weapons, but their overtures have been snubbed by the United States.
Popovkin warned that the complexity of space weapons could even trigger a war. He said that satellites could fail for purely technical reasons, but their owners could think they were incapacitated by an enemy and retaliate. A country reliant on space defences could legitimately suspect that any satellite failure is the beginning of an enemy effort to deafen and blind it, Popovkin said.
President Bush signed an order last year that asserted the US right to space weapons and opposing the development of treaties or other measures restricting them. The US has an ambitious programme for a space-based missile defence system, and the Pentagon is working on missiles, ground lasers and other technology to shoot down enemy satellites.
Russia has also strongly criticised US plans to deploy a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. It has rejected US claims that missile defence sites in Europe were necessary to confront a missile threat from Iran, saying they threatened Russia's nuclear deterrence system. The dispute has badly damaged Russia-US relations.
Popovkin has said that the Russian military would build a new early warning radar near Armavir, in southern Russia's Krasnodar region, to replace the aging Soviet-built radars intended to detect the launch of enemy ballistic missiles that it now shares with Ukraine.
Popovkin also said that in 2009, Russia would start testing a new generation of satellites to spot missile launches. He said more than 60 military and dual-purpose satellites are currently in orbit.