President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Russian tests of new missiles this week were a response to US plans for missile defence sites and other forces in Europe, and suggested Washington had triggered a new arms race.

Russia will strengthen its military potential to keep a strategic balance, he warned.

"It wasn't us who initiated a new round of arms race," Putin said when asked about Russia's missile tests this week.

Putin described the tests, of a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads and a new cruise missile, as part of Russia's response to the planned deployment of new US military bases and missile defence sites in ex-Soviet satellites in Central and Eastern Europe.

He assailed the US and other Nato members for failing to ratify an amended version of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.

"We have pulled out all our heavy weapons from the European part of Russia to behind the Ural Mountains and cut our military by 300,000 men," Putin said. "And what about our partners? They are filling Eastern Europe with new weapons . . . We can't just sit back and look at that."

Putin reaffirmed his warning that Russia would opt out of the CFE treaty altogether unless Nato ratified its amended version.

In remarks clearly directed at Washington, Putin blasted those "who want to dictate their will to all others regardless of international norms and law".

"It's dangerous and harmful," he added. "We view it as diktat and imperialism."

Russia this week initiated an international conference in Austria early this month about the CFE treaty.-AP