Typically mild-mannered, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev let loose in a nationally televised speech against American and NATO plans for a missile defense system. His probable successor, Vladimir Putin, may even boycott the next NATO summit in Chicago n
MOSCOW – With arms negotiations faltering, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has delivered a stern warning to the United States in a televised speech at least one month in the making.
Medvedev went to the national airwaves to declare that Russia would quit the START deal on nuclear arms reduction if Washington continued with plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Sources tell Kommersant that the text for Medvedev's speech, delivered on Russian TV Wednesday night, was first crafted among Russian Foreign Ministry officials in October, almost a month before Medvedev's meeting with U.S President Barack Obama in Honolulu.
"Even then, it was clear the negotiations with the Americans were at an impasse," a Russian Foreign Ministry source said.
The initial approach was considered overly diplomatic, but a draft text was given teeth with more concrete measures following discussions in September with the Russian Security Council and the Russian Defense Ministry. The source said after talks with Obama made it clear that neither he nor any U.S president could give legal guarantees of safety, a tougher response was drafted.
A NATO source has told Kommersant that Medvedev's harsh words will not slow down the missile shield project, effectively ending hopes for a lasting "reset" in relations between the countries.
The US missile defense plans for Eastern Europe envision missile interceptors and radars being placed in new NATO members near the Russian border. The Atlantic alliance and Washington say the defense weapons would counter a threat from Iran which is developing long-range missiles and an alleged nuclear weapons program. But Moscow objects, saying the shield would be able to intercept Russian missiles.
Medvedev's televised address to the nation on Wednesday was him at his toughest in his four years as president, as he accused the US and NATO of undermining Russia's security. He said Moscow would target shield sites in Europe with its own Iskander ballistic missile system, implement a multi-stage upgrade of its own missile forces and exit the START treaty, the main focus of a reset in relations.
A Chicago boycott?
Kremlin sources tell Kommersant that unless Washington makes concessions, Moscow will continue its hard stance, and Vladimir Putin may boycott the next NATO summit in Chicago next year, at which point Putin is expected to be president again.
Chief editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, Fyodor Lukyanov, said progress over missile defense could not wait.
"This will cause irritation in the US, especially as Obama has long said that a reset in ties with Russia is one of his key foreign policy achievements, and has defended Russia in front of Congress. Now the Kremlin has dealt a blow to Obama and handed the Republicans an advantage," Lukyanov said.
One diplomat said: "After this speech, any idea of a reset in relations is buried. And if the statement is for domestic consumption ahead of an election, then it is all the more depressing."
Still, despite all the sound and fury from Medvedev, the measures he announced had already been in the offing for a long time. A radar is already being built near Kaliningrad while the increase in aerospace defense he referred to has already been developed. Also, the placement of the Iskander missile system in Kaliningrad was announced back in 2007.
But a NATO source said the West's strong reaction to Medvedev's statement was unavoidable.
"There is regret over what Medvedev said. We intend to seek a compromise and offer new ideas. But so far, Russia has rejected all our proposals. Moscow needs to understand that the missile defense system will be deployed no matter what."
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