The world may have woken up to the election of a new president in the United States, but global political tensions haven't gone away. One of the many foreign policy issues President-elect Barack Obama will soon have to face is the increasingly frosty relationship with Russia. And if Wednesday marked the dawn of a new era in Washington, the tone coming from Moscow was decidedly reminiscent of the Cold War.
On Wednesday morning, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave his first annual address to the nation and he chose to attack the United States' "selfish" foreign policy and "economic blunders," that he says led to the global financial crisis. And just a few hours after Obama was declared the victor in the US presidential elections, Medvedev upped the ante in Moscow's dispute with Washington over the US missile defense installations in Eastern Europe.
The Russian president said that Moscow planned to place Iskander short-range missile systems in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave that borders NATO members Lithuania and Poland. He said that the country planned to electronically jam the US system, parts of which are to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, and he announced that Moscow was scrapping plans to stand down three Cold War-era missile regiments.
The 43-year-old Medvedev was speaking in the Kremlin's ornate white-marbled St. George's Hall to around 1,000 parliamentarians, top government officials, religious leaders and journalists. The 85-minute speech was broadcast live on TV and radio. His predecessor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sat in the front row nodding approvingly as Medvedev made his nationalistic speech in which he railed at Washington's "selfish" foreign policy during Russia's war with Georgia this summer.
"The conflict in the Caucasus was used as a pretext for sending NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the forceful foisting on Europe of America's anti-missile systems, which in its turn will entail retaliatory measures by Russia," Medvedev said. The president told his audience that the brief war with Georgia over the rebel region of South Ossetia had been "among other things, the result of the arrogant course of the US administration which hates criticism and prefers unilateral decisions."
The Bush administration has maintained that the radar base in the Czech Republic and the interceptor missiles in Poland are to counter a missile threat from "rogue states" such as Iran. However, Russia—already fuming that so many former Soviet states are now NATO members—has perceived the missile defense system as a threat to its security. High-level negotiations between the US and Russia have not led to a compromise solution and Medvedev's speech indicates that Russia has given up on the talks producing results.
The Russian president also repeated his accusations that the global financial crisis originated in the US. "Inflating the cash bubble to stimulate their own growth, they not only made no effort to coordinate their actions with the other participants in global markets but also neglected the elementary sense of proportion and did not listen to repeated warnings from their partners."
Medvedev said he hoped the incoming Obama administration would take steps to improve relations with Russia. "I stress that we have no problem with the American people, no inborn anti-Americanism. And we hope that our partners, the US administration, will make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia," Medvedev said.
Medvedev is due to travel to Washington next week for the Nov. 15 summit on the global financial crisis. It not yet known if he will use the trip to get to know his future US counterpart, Barack Obama.