Advantage to Russia in U.S. missile moveThe Kremlin got exactly what it wanted when the United States scrapped plans for missile defenses on Russia’s borders. And Moscow wasted no time in trying to show, at least publicly, that it has ceded nothing in return and, in fact, intends to press for more from Washington.
By: By Mike Eckel, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
MOSCOW — The Kremlin got exactly what it wanted when the United States scrapped plans for missile defenses on Russia’s borders.
And Moscow wasted no time in trying to show, at least publicly, that it has ceded nothing in return and, in fact, intends to press for more from Washington.
Iran and its nuclear intentions loomed over Thursday’s decision by the Obama administration to abandon the idea of placing a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lurking not far under the surface were deeper issues such as the fate of Washington’s staunchest allies in the former Soviet bloc and their fears of their massive eastern neighbor.
For now, Russia appears to have the upper hand — the Kremlin can crow to a domestic audience about staring down the Americans and thumbing its nose at the upstart Poles. The White House is hoping for more cooperation from Moscow on Iran and other simmering international issues, something that’s far from a sure thing.
Missile defense in Eastern Europe was arguably the most serious thorn in the U.S.-Russian relationship, with Moscow repeatedly and angrily insisting that the system was pointless against an imagined Iranian threat — and was a grave threat to Russian national security.
On the day after Barack Obama won his historic election victory last year, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in lieu of congratulations, threw down the gauntlet, threatening to put sophisticated short-range Iskander missiles on Poland’s border if Washington didn’t stop the deployment.
On the day Obama announced the decision to scrap the plan, Medvedev said that was the right move all along — a smug announcement that made no concessions and sounded like a lecture to a wayward teenager.
He took a similarly blunt tone in an interview with Swiss media that was posted on the Kremlin Web site Friday, saying: “If our partners hear any of our concerns, then we of course we will more carefully consider their concerns. But this doesn’t mean primitive compromises and swaps.”
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who often found incendiary ways to describe the United States as president before Medvedev, praised the decision. He then promptly demanded more, such as lifting Cold War-era trade restrictions.
Russia is the largest economy without WTO membership, and Moscow accuses Washington of being behind that.
It was unclear what behind-the-scenes talks went on between Moscow and Washington before Obama’s announcement Thursday. Russian officials said there was no quid pro quo.
Medvedev foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said the move would require the Kremlin to “attentively consider new possibilities opening up for cooperation and interaction.”
And the announcement Friday that Russia would not deploy Iskander missiles near the Polish border? That had merely been a threat, not an actual deployment.
Neil MacFarlane, a Russia expert at Oxford University, said the Obama decision was made for technical reasons, not as a result of some deal with Russia.
Where Washington is counting on Moscow for serious help is on Iran, and pressing it to stop moving toward development of nuclear weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will join U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and counterparts from the three other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in New York next week for discussions on Iran.
But there’s no indication that Russia — a major trading partner with Iran — is yet willing to support harsher U.S. measures against Tehran. Prikhodko gave no hint whether Moscow could edge closer to the U.S. position, and Lavrov made the same signal in a speech given just hours before Obama’s announcement.
While Moscow may be content, countries like Poland and the Czech Republic fear Obama’s decision has only darkened the shadow that Russia has long cast over them.
On Friday, in the same Polish tabloid whose headline screamed “Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back,” President Lech Kaczynski wrote that Poland had been left in a dangerous “gray zone.”