Dear Barack: Others Send Greetings; Russia Sends Missiles

The Kremlin is good at stage management and the timing of President Dmitry Medvedev’s excoriation of US foreign policy was no coincidence.

He could have made the speech on any day in November.

Instead he chose 5 November, the day after the US presidential election.


Russia's "Iskander" missile system on display ...
Russia’s “Iskander” missile system on display at a military exhibition in the Siberian town of Nizhny Tagil in 2005. President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia will place short-range missile systems on the EU’s eastern border to counter planned US missile defence installations in Eastern Europe.(AFP/VEDOMOSTI/File/Evgeny Stetsko)

The message from the Kremlin is also clear: if the US wants good relations with Moscow then the new administration had better start by junking George Bush’s foreign policy.

Much of this has been heard before. But it is the first time since the end of the Cold War that we have heard a Russian president openly and clearly threaten to deploy ballistic missiles to Europe.

So is he serious – and how worried should Europe and America be?

The answer to the first question is maybe, although he is not likely to act anytime soon.


According to military analysts in Moscow, Russia’s whole stock of Iskander missiles – the type Mr Medvedev is proposing sending to Kaliningrad – are currently deployed near the Georgian border.

Russia is unlikely to move those so it will need to manufacture new ones and that will be time consuming and expensive.

For now, Mr Medvedev’s threat seems largely rhetorical.

It is part tough-guy act by the newish Russian president for his domestic audience – and they lapped it up.

But it is also part of an attempt to get the new US administration to take Russia’s concerns seriously.

And Russia is concerned. Under George W Bush, America has been rapidly expanding into Moscow’s old back yard.

Once-friendly regimes in Kiev and Tbilisi are now run by paid-up members of the US club.

Nato’s borders are just 400 miles from the Moscow ring road.

A Russian soldier standing on the launcher of a tactical near Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea (July 2004)
Kaliningrad has strategic importance for Moscow

Missile defence

Last, but not least, is missile defence.

Rightly or wrongly, Russia’s military experts seem to genuinely believe that the proposed shield is aimed at them, and will seriously undermine Russia’s own nuclear deterrent.

By threatening to put its own missiles into Kaliningrad, Russia is aiming to kill two birds with one stone.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev arrives for his annual ... 
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev arrives for his annual state of the nation address in the Kremlin in Moscow, November 5, 2008.REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

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