Global Insights: Medvedev Welcomes Obama with Missiles

Global Insights: Medvedev Welcomes Obama with Missiles

Just hours after President-elect Barack Obama's election victory, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev used his first state of the nation address before both houses of the Russian parliament to declare that Russia would deploy short-range Iskander missile systems in Kaliningrad "to neutralize if necessary the anti-ballistic missile system in Europe." Medvedev also said that Russian electronic equipment would jam the U.S. systems and that he had canceled plans to dismantle three missile regiments deployed in western Russia. Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea port which lies between NATO members Lithuania and Poland, hosts a major Russian military base.

The Iskander surface-to-surface missile has a declared range of slightly under 500 km (300 miles), which allows it to escape the prohibition of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty against ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. If deployed in the Kaliningrad region, the missile could target all of Poland and the Baltic states as well as certain territory in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic. Each missile can carry several warheads. The Iskander has been tested with a conventional payload but could carry nuclear warheads, though the Russian government has not indicated that the systems that might deploy in Kaliningrad would be so armed.

In his speech, Medvedev insisted that there was no reason why the Russian-American relationship had to be confrontational, saying, "We have no problems with the American people. We have no inherent anti-Americanism." But Medvedev went on to denounce the U.S. campaign to enlarge NATO membership and deploy missile defenses on the territory of the new members. He also blamed the United States for contributing to the current world financial crisis and last August's war in Georgia, which Washington then exploited to secure approval for its proposed missile defense system. "The conflict in the Caucasus," he claimed, "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 system, which in its turn will entail retaliatory measures by Russia."

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