MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged on Wednesday to station new missiles near Poland's border in response to U.S. plans for an anti-missile system and proposed extending the presidential term to six years from four.
In an assertive first annual address to the nation, he defended Russia's war with Georgia, appealed to nationalism and attacked Washington's "selfish" foreign policy and "economic blunders" which he said caused the global financial crisis.
The harsh tone and repeated attacks on the United States the day after Democrat Barack Obama's electoral victory surprised some observers who had expected a more liberal style and more detail on how Russia would tackle a financial crisis.
"To neutralize -- if necessary -- the (U.S.) anti-missile system, an Iskander missile system will be deployed in the Kaliningrad region," Medvedev said, referring to a Russian enclave bordering European Union members Poland and Lithuania.
Russia would electronically jam the U.S. system, parts of which are due to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, and Moscow would scrap plans to stand down three Cold War-era nuclear missile regiments, the president said.
"Medvedev was very assertive in his delivery," said Ronald Smith, chief strategist at Alfa Bank in Moscow. "(He) appeared to be staking out strong positions on various issues ahead of the entry of the new American presidential administration."
Poland played down the Russian plan. "We have been used to the fact that Russia growls every now and then," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said at a news conference in Warsaw. "I would not give too much meaning to this declaration."
In Prague, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told Reuters the Russian deployment would worsen the atmosphere for dialogue. Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus said in a statement the Russian plan was beyond comprehension.
Russia has said the missile shield is a threat to it's own security although the U.S. has denied this -- a stance it reiterated on Wednesday.
"These are interceptors and they are designed to protect our European allies as well as the continental United States from an emerging ballistic missile threat from the Middle East," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
Medvedev's 85-minute address also included surprise proposals to extend the presidential term from four to six years, a move that may benefit his predecessor Vladimir Putin.
Still Russia's most popular politician, Putin stepped down in May after serving the maximum two consecutive terms allowed, but is free to return for another two terms when Medvedev's four years in power end in 2012.
"This is being prepared so that Putin can return for 12 years, so two six-year terms," said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Russian political analyst.
Medvedev said a longer term was needed to allow the head of state to meet challenges including economic and military reform and the creation of a stable democracy. A Kremlin aide said the change would not apply to the term Medvedev is serving now.
Putin, now a highly influential prime minister, listened attentively from the front row of the audience in the grand, marble-clad St George Hall of the Kremlin.
More... (external - login to view)
In all fairness to the Russians the USA missile defence system is obviously meant to prevent a retributive counter attack and so obviously gives the USA a decisive advantage against Russia. That is very obvious. It essential alters the balance of mutually assured destruction which means the USA could strike first with relative impunity. Russia does have to address that issue. I know our stupid media will completely miss that point and start spewing out propaganda. As a comparison, imagine what would happen if Russia tried to put anti-missiles in Canada and Mexico? The idiot public here would have no problem seeing that as a first strike weapon. How odd they expect that Russia should just accept US aggression?