MOSCOW - Russia will work on a new generation of atomic weapons to strengthen its nuclear deterrent, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday, just hours after Moscow test-fired one of its most feared missiles.

Medvedev said that Russia and the United States were close to a landmark deal on cutting arsenals of Cold War nuclear weapons, but that Moscow would still push ahead with the development of new strategic offensive weapons.

Of course, we will develop new systems, including delivery systems, that is, missiles, Medvedev told the directors of Russia's three main state-controlled television channels.

Medvedev said Washington and Moscow had agreed most of the remaining issues for a deal to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which led to the biggest reduction in nuclear weapons in history.

Despite the fact that we will prepare and sign this treaty, we will nevertheless develop our strategic offensive forces because without this there is no way to defend our country, Medvedev said, several hours after the armed forces test-fired a nuclear capable missile.
The new missiles would be developed in full accordance with arms agreements made with the United States, he said.

The Kremlin chief said U.S. President Barack Obama's idea for a nuclear-free world was beautiful and right but cautioned that it would take time.

The Kremlin chief said he had a special relationship with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who many Russians believe is still the country's paramount leader, though he struck a wistful tone when asked about his role, lamenting a lack of freedom.

It is a simple question -- of course freedom and free time, said Medvedev, who in May will mark the mid-term of his presidency after nearly two years of speculation that Putin may one day return as president.
The life of the first person, of the top leaders, is an array of limits and the saddest thing is that you only feel them at the moment when you start this work, he said.

The interview, lasting 1 hour 21 minutes, contrasted sharply with Putin's confident 4-hour televised question-and-answer session with the Russian people on Dec 3, when he ruled out leaving politics and hinted he could run in 2012 presidential elections.

Putin presided over Russia's longest economic boom in a generation while president, although Russia was hammered by the economic crisis half a year after he left office in May 2008.

Medvedev said the crisis had shown the vulnerability of Russia's economy, which he said had contracted by at least 8.7 percent in 2009, the worst performance in 14 years.

The exit from the crisis will be fairly slow, Medvedev said, adding that growth could total 2.5 to 5.0 percent in 2010.

We still have an economic system which is based on the energy market, he said. Without modernisation, our economy has no future even though it relies on huge natural riches.

(Reporting by Toni Vorobyova and Gleb Bryanski, writing by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Philippa Fletcher and Robin Pomeroy)