It's either common missile defense or new arms race - Medvedev

In his annual State of the Nation address, President Dmitry Medvedev said it was imperative that NATO and Russia work jointly on the missile defense shield planned for Eastern Europe.

The Russian president did not mince words when he told the Federal Assembly on Tuesday that the consequences of NATO and Russia failing to work mutually on a missile defense system would be nothing short of an arms race.

"I would like to say openly in this hall that over the next decade we are facing the following alternative: either we reach an agreement on missile defense and create a fully-fledged joint mechanism of co-operation or, if we fail to reach a constructive agreement, a new round of the arms race will start and we shall have to take decisions on the deployment of new strike equipment," Medvedev said.

Yet the Russian president was quick to add that it was his hope that an agreement could be found, and mentioned the progress that had been made at NATO’s Lisbon Summit, which the Russian president attended.

"I shared my views at the Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon on how a European missile defense architecture could be formed, in which Russia and NATO's capabilities could be combined in defending Europe from missile strikes," Dmitry Medvedev told his guests who were assembled in the Kremlin's ornate St. George’s Hall. "A beginning has been laid for joint work on this issue in its entirety."

The president added that a joint shield would be the most logical strategy because it would combine "all the capabilities of Russia and NATO and ensure the protection of all European countries from missile threats."

Commenting on the Russian president’s statement, and the positive reaction it received from the audience, presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich stressed that the Kremlin’s position is that an arms race with the United States should be avoided.

"The applause on the arms race was premature. The president believes that such an outcome would be a negative scenario and everything should be done to come to terms with the US," he told reporters.

Dvorkovich went on to echo President Medvedev’s comments when he stated that if NATO implements the… missile defense program unilaterally, "we will have to produce our systems, deploy them on the far borders and develop technical systems."

The presidential aide did not elaborate on what the response would be, explaining "it is a matter for military officials."

The Russian military, meanwhile, stated on Tuesday that it will design new intercontinental ballistic missiles for the Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN)

"To support the necessary balance of forces in nuclear deterrence, we'll need qualitative improving of the components of Russia's strategic nuclear forces,” RVSN commander Lt-Gen Sergei Karakayev said on Tuesday, according to Itar-Tass. “The domestic missile developers will continue to work on new missile systems, including those that incorporate new technical solutions of the Topol-M systems.

Meanwhile, Dvorkovich noted that Russia "hopes for a new START treaty to be approved soon."

Presently, US President Barack Obama is facing an uphill battle to get the New START treaty ratified following the Democrats poor showing in the midterm elections. Now the US Republicans seem anxious to deprive Obama of a much-needed foreign policy victory, thereby hurting his chances of re-election come 2012.

US Republicans (and media) jeopardizing reset

The Russian president’s warnings on the threat of a new arms race seem justified in light of the articles and commentaries emerging from the US political right, which seems willing to do whatever it can to shoot down missile defense.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for example, expressed indignation over an article from the neoconservative newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, which reported that the leaders of NATO “rebuffed a proposal from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to unite Russia's missile defenses with those of the West.”

The article, entitled “Russia Rebuffed on Missile Offer,” and written by Stephen Fidler and Gregory L. White, a correspondent based in Moscow, relied solely on “anonymous sources.”

“NATO diplomats said the Medvedev proposal goes way beyond what the alliance envisages,” Fidler and White write, “which is co-operation and information sharing between two systems rather than a single system.”

The article then quotes an anonymous NATO “spokeswoman” as saying: "We're looking at two different systems linked up."

The Wall Street Journal reporters are "misinformed," Lavrov believes. After all, NATO and Russia officials clearly discussed the possibility of working together on a single missile defense system, which would be built and supervised with both NATO and Russian personnel.

"This is juggling with words, which journalists are taking advantage of, and they are doing so in an indecent way," Lavrov told Interfax on Friday, explaining that a final decision will not be made until next year.

"It is experts who should make their conclusion on this issue, and this very position was set out in the final document [during negotiations in Lisbon] as the experts were instructed to analyze all  possible options and proposals, consider them, and then present their conclusions at a meeting  of the Russian and NATO defense ministers in June," he said.

Lavrov added that he the headline of the article in The Wall Street Journal was irresponsible “sensationalism.”

"In putting forward the idea of a sectoral missile defense system,” Lavrov explained, “President Medvedev never said that this is Russia's final proposal. [The task] implies consideration and a search for options as to how cooperation in this issue could develop."

Russia’s permanent envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, also expressed his disappointment over the article on the weekend.

"This is an astonishing thing, because the article is signed by two journalists,” Rogozin said on television channel Rossiya 24 on Saturday. “But I would like to say that, unlike them, I was present in the hall where the Russia-NATO summit took place, and the Russian president's proposal was taken with keen interest."

Rogozin added that Russia stressed during the NATO-Russian meetings that it was important to avoid any more “mistakes” to be made in the region.

"We warned our partners that we wouldn't like any more mistakes to be made, like the emergence of some missile defense potential near Russian borders threatening Russia's strategic nuclear forces," he said.

Rogozin then offered his personal opinion as to what prompted such an article.

"If you want to know, here is my conclusion: of course, many…loathe what we [NATO and Russian diplomats] agreed upon with the West in Lisbon. If this all is put into practice, this will be a real breakthrough in our relations. Russia could feel safe about its western borders, and we could finally concentrate our forces and resources in other areas, while the West would understand that it is impossible to resolve any issue without Russia, including…missile defense.  

“Acting against Russia is a bit like, as we say in Russia, getting frostbite on your ears just to spite your grandmother," Rogozin said, using a colloquial Russian expression similar to the English idiom "cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face".

Rogozin suggested that the article could have been inspired by “profound skeptics” and “categorical opponents” to the very idea of closer relations between the West and Russia, especially concerning military-political co-operation.

"I would call this the Cold War party,” he said. “But let's hope that this Cold War party will win an absolute minority in major elections in all European nations."

Thus, the question of the US-Russian reset, not to mention that of a possible future arms race, seems to hinge on nothing more than cheap political posturing on the part of the Republicans. Given the tricks the American “party of no” has played in the past, nothing is now certain between the United States and Russia until the ink is dry on the final documents.

Robert Bridge, RT