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CIS: Russian leader blasts US, vows to deploy missiles near EU

06 Nov 2008 1:28 PM
By Nick Coleman

MOSCOW, Nov 6 AFP - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced plans 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 election victory, Medvedev yesterday 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 westernRussian territory of Kaliningrad, wedged between Lithuania and Poland, in response to US plans to site missile defence bases in eastern Europe.

In an address 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.

Russia's stock markets have plunged more than two-thirds since May and its banking sector has been thrown into turmoil.

Medvedev later sent a congratulatory telegram to Obama, but the tone remained chilly.

"Russia is convinced of the need for the gradual development of cooperationbetween our countries," the telegram said, according to a Kremlin transcript.

"I count on constructive dialogue with you on the basis of trust and takinginto account each other's interests."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Medvedev and Obama may meet on November 15 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Washington.

Medvedev said the Iskander missiles were being deployed to "neutralise" thethreat from planned US missile interceptors in Poland and radar facilitiesin 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."

NATO meanwhile voiced "serious worries" about the compatibility of Russian plans to deploy missiles in a western Russian enclave with arm control "arrangements," an alliance spokesman said yesterday.

Spokesman Robert Pszczel told AFP: "Moreover, placing of these Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region would not help NATO and Russia to improve their relationship."

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 neighbourover 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.

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.

AFP tnf=0A