(AFP) – Nov 5, 2008
MOSCOW (AFP) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced plans Wednesday to deploy missiles on the EU's doorstep in a warning shot to US president-elect Barack Obama and Washington's allies in central Europe.
Just hours after Obama's presidential election victory, Medvedev rounded on the United States for ills ranging from the global financial crisis to the recent war in Georgia in his debut state-of-the-nation speech.
He announced the deployment of Iskander short-range missiles in the western Russian territory of Kaliningrad, wedged between Lithuania and Poland, in response to US plans to site missile defence bases in eastern Europe.
Addressing hundreds of dignitaries in the Kremlin, Medvedev detailed a litany of complaints against Washington, including enlargement of the NATO alliance and US support for Russia's southern Caucasus foe Georgia.
"What we've had to deal with in the last few years -- the construction of a global missile defence system, the encirclement of Russia by military blocs, unrestrained NATO enlargement.... The impression is we are being tested to the limit," he said.
He also blamed Washington for the global financial crisis.
"The economy of the United States dragged down with it into recession the financial markets of the whole planet," he said.
His comments contrasted sharply with the euphoric mood in many Western countries in response to Obama's victory after eight years of rule by George W. Bush.
Medvedev later sent a congratulatory telegram to Obama, but the tone remained chilly.
"Russia is convinced of the need for the gradual development of cooperation between our countries," the telegram said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
"I count on constructive dialogue with you on the basis of trust and taking into account each other's interests."
Medvedev said the Iskander missiles were being deployed to "neutralise" the threat from planned US missile interceptors in Poland and radar facilities in the Czech Republic.
Russia says the US plans threaten Russian security and dismisses claims they are directed against "rogue states" such as Iran.
The Czech foreign ministry later described Medvedev's move as "unfortunate" although Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said it should be seen as more of a political message.
"In the event that the situation gets bad, the balance of power is already well known," said Tusk. "So we should consider the announcement as a new political step, not a military one."
Medvedev said the US had sped up its missile-defence plans in reaction to August's war in Georgia, in which Russia clashed with its southern neighbour over the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Russia's military onslaught, condemned by the West, was "a consequence of the presumptuous policies of the US administration," Medvedev said.
"We will not back down in the Caucasus," he added.
In his first state-of-the-nation speech since taking over from Vladimir Putin in May, Medvedev also announced plans to extend presidential terms from four to six years.
Analysts question how much Medvedev really controls policy, with many affirming that Putin, who holds the office of prime minister and heads the country's dominant political party, remains in control.
Both Putin and Medvdedev have repeatedly blamed the US for the global financial crisis, which has hit Russia's economy hard.
Russia's stock markets have plunged more than two-thirds since May and its banking sector has been thrown into turmoil.
Analyst Maria Lipman, of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said a pause in the current hostility between the Bush administration and the Kremlin would be welcome under Obama but that long-term problems would remain.
"There are deep problems dividing the two countries and they will not disappear because there is a new president," she said.
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