Russia warns US of potential new arms race

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he might deploy missiles to 'neutralize' a planned US-backed missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia emerged Wednesday as a front-runner among the many foreign-policy challenges President-elect Barack Obama is likely to face. In his first State of the Union address, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned the next American administration of a possible new arms race.

The New York Times reports that while his speech stressed that Russia has "no inherent conflict with America," Mr. Medvedev took a firm stance:

President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia greeted his future American counterpart, Senator Barack Obama, with bristling language on Wednesday, promising to place short-range missiles on Russia's western border if Washington proceeded with its planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe....
"We have told our partners more than once that we want positive cooperation, we want to act together to combat common threats. But they, unfortunately, don't want to listen to us," [Medvedev said].

The Moscow Times describes Medvedev's speech, his first State of the Union address, as "a club sandwich":

Rather than sending out a straightforward message, Medvedev offered some liberal reformist proposals – juicily sandwiched between layers of hawkish threats and announcements.
Medvedev began and ended his speech with a foreign policy message that seemed to confirm Western fears that he would follow former President Vladimir Putin's hawkish stance. But in between, he offered some domestic proposals welcomed by proponents of liberal change.

The remarks of the Russian president come as "[t]ension in Russian-American relations has been driven to a post-Cold War high by Moscow's war with US ally Georgia," reports the Associated Press.

US, Polish, and Czech officials have been in discussion about a defensive missile system to fend off "rogue states" for a year, according to Agence France-Presse.

The aim of the base, and a related radar in the Czech Republic, is to complete an anti-missile shield already in place in the United States, Greenland and Britain.
Washington says the system, endorsed by NATO this year, aims to fend off potential missile attacks by what it calls "rogue states," specifically Iran.

Mr. Obama is expected to back the missile plan, Reuters points out.

Poland and the Czech Republic expect the incoming Obama administration to go ahead with the European missile defense shield which will be located on their soils, the countries' prime ministers said on Wednesday.
Some Democrats in the U.S. Congress have questioned the planned missile shield and pushed to cut its funding, raising fears that President-elect Barack Obama could walk away from the project after taking office in January....
Under President George W. Bush, the White House had pushed to complete negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic ahead of Tuesday's presidential election....
"Already during the election campaign, Barack Obama said his attitude toward the missile shield did not differ from that of the Bush administration," said [Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek.]

As a result, Medvedev's challenge could test Obama's administration from the get-go, says The Washington Post:

The threat, which came just hours after the conclusion of the U.S. election, appeared intended to signal Moscow's priorities to the American president-elect. It could present an early foreign policy test for Barack Obama, who says he supports a missile defense system against Iran but has also accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the system's capabilities and rushing deployment for political purposes.

The Times (of London) points out that Medvedev's speech did more than offer stiff words:

Taking advantage of the world's attention on the US elections, Mr Medvedev also cancelled plans to withdraw three intercontinental ballistic missile regiments from western Russia by 2010.

Western officials quickly condemned Russia's strong language, the paper reports.

Nato's eastern members greeted the Russian move with dismay. A Czech Foreign Ministry spokesman described the Kremlin's move as unfortunate. Lithuania's President Adamkus accused his Russian counterpart of going back on his word.

The Pentagon also expressed its dismay, saying that America's planned missile system was neither intended to nor capable of countering Russia's missile arsenal, The New York Times adds.

"The Russians know full well that our European missile defense system is not capable of defeating their enormous ballistic missile arsenal," [Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary] said with evident frustration. "Rather, it is meant to counter Iran's growing missile threat. And we have bent over backwards to invite the Russians to partner with us to defeat this common threat.

Following Medvedev's speech, RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency linked to the government, reported the assessment of a Russian analyst:

The placement of short-range tactical missiles near Poland would be the best response to U.S. missile plans for Europe, a Russian military analyst said on Wednesday....
"The deployment of Iskander missile systems with a range of 500 km (310 miles) [in the Kaliningrad region] would allow Russia to target the entire territory of Poland and also parts of Germany and the Czech Republic," said Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Moscow-based Military Forecast Center.
The Iskander-M tactical system is equipped with high-precision SS-26 Stone 'quasiballistic' missiles reportedly capable of carrying multiple conventional and nuclear warheads.
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