WEAPONS OF MASS IRRITATION

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DMITRY MEDVEDEV’S PROMISE TO DEPLOY ISKANDER MISSILES IN KALININGRAD DISTURBED ALL OF EUROPE, FUELLING CRITICISM OF RUSSIA

President Dmitry Medvedev’s promise to deploy Iskanders in Kaliningrad stirred all of Europe.


President Dmitry Medvedev became one of major newsmakers throughout the West, yesterday. All leading European newspapers featured excerpts from his message to the Federal Assembly, mostly the ones dealing with Russia’s reaction to installation of elements of the American ballistic missile defense system in East Europe.

Neither could European politicians miss so perfect an opportunity to speak up. Benita Ferrero-Waldner of the European Union was the first to set the tone of comments. “That’s a surprise, a nasty surprise,” she said. “Deployment of missiles in Kaliningrad is not going to boost European security.”

Ferrero-Waldner’s opinion was echoed in Prague, Warsaw, Vilnius, and Riga. Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic, the country that permitted the Americans to install a radar on its territory, called Russian president’s statement “lamentable”.

Poland was particularly disturbed by Iskanders’ forthcoming appearance in the Kaliningrad enclave, which is hardly surprising considering its plans to deploy American killer missiles on its territory. Needless to say, it will make this country number one target for the Iskanders. Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Medvedev’s statement was not “a friendly act”. “We used to hear things like that from generals,” Sikorski said. “This time, however, we hear it from the president in his policy statement.” “With the new US president about to be installed in Washington, threats like that worsen the situation,” Bronislaw Komorowski of the Polish Seim was noticeably less diplomatic. “They bear too strong a resemblance to blackmail.”

Even Russia’s traditional allies joined the chorus of the East European and Baltic states, its critics of old. Foreign Minister of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Medvedev’s promise to deploy Iskanders in Kaliningrad a “wrong signal at a wrong moment”. The German diplomat strongly advised Russia to recognize the fact that the current situation “offers a chance to establish relations between Russia and America all over again.”

As a matter of fact, there was more to Steinmeier’s words than a reference to the forthcoming appearance of the US Administration. The Russian-EU summit, the first one after the war in the Caucasus, is scheduled to take place in Nice a week from now. Moscow and the European Union expected to revive the interrupted talks over the new partnership and cooperation agreement at the summit. The Russian-Georgian war broadened the gap in EU ranks. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Czech Republic insisted on sanctions against Russia at the emergency EU summit in September. After the summit, they never missed a chance to criticize Russia for what they termed as failure to fulfill its obligations under the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan (they claimed that the Russian army had never gone back to pre-war positions). Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini would later admit that Old World countries persuaded these EU members to abandon their radical demands with difficulty.

Moscow’s threats of a military reaction to the American ballistic missile defense system these days weaken and compromise positions of the Old World countries that stand for normalization of relations with Russia. Presidents of Poland and Lithuania Lech Kaczynski and Valdas Adamkus already signed a joint declaration stating that renewal of talks with Russia over a new partnership and cooperation agreement was untimely under the circumstances. Lithuanian media outlets features a piece by Adamkus yesterday where he plainly stated that renewal of the talks with Russia would demonstrate EU’s weakness. “It will be a catastrophe,” Adamkus concluded.

The decision to resume the talks with Russia or not is to be made by the conference of EU foreign ministers next Monday. In fact, agenda of the summit in Nice will depend on what the conference decides. “EU foreign ministers will discuss implementation of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan by Moscow and try to work out a common position with regard to Russia,” Marco Mihelson of the Estonian national parliament said. “Very many would like to know what Russian policy with regard to the European Union is expected to accomplish. What is Russia after? Is it after development of the relations or is it resolved to continue along the path that does not allow for their improvement? Try as I might, I did not find an answer to that in Medvedev’s speech.”

NATO, too, would like to know answers to these questions. An official spokesman for the Alliance said yesterday that deployment of Iskanders in the Kaliningrad region was no way of improving the NATO-Russia relations. What information is available to Kommersant, however, indicates that statements are not all the Alliance intends to restrict its reaction to. “Medvedev made a serious and aggressive statement. Moscow had better disabuse itself of the illusion that it will remain unnoticed. Nobody wants a serious confrontation, but that is not something we can ignore. It’s just that we need time to analyze that,” a senior officer from NATO HQ in Brussels said.

Statements made by European politicians mirrored their disillusionment. “Medvedev’s statements leave the impression that Putin’s hard line in international affairs is still being promoted,” Mihelson said. Ferrero-Waldner even went so far as to question the idea Medvedev has been promoting since June (the idea of a major Euro-Atlantic security treaty between Russia and the European Union, one that will become a foundation of the new world order). “I wonder how statements such as this check with the new European security strategy the president of Russia suggested,” she said.

All things considered, Medvedev’s latest statements fit the pattern of behavior he recommended to the Russian diplomatic corps this July. The head of state met with diplomats then and told them to be more aggressive in promotion of Russia’s national interests. Everything that happened since (including the war in the Caucasus, recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states, and even the intention to establish military bases there) indicates the Kremlin’s resolve to live up to this policy. So does the promise to install Iskanders in the Kaliningrad region. With Putin in the Kremlin, official Moscow kept promising a response to development of the American ballistic missile defense system in East Europe. With Medvedev over there, the time to keep the promises has come.

Russian diplomats in the meantime refuse to be overly dramatic over the situation in general. “The president’s words concerning Iskander complexes were but a warning of what implementation of the American plans might effectuate. Europe has serious questions concerning the necessity of the American ballistic missile defense framework. The way I see it, Barack Obama’s triumph proves that these plans of the former US Administration might even be scrapped. Which means of course that there will be no need for our Iskanders in Kaliningrad,” Russian Representative to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said. The diplomat even suggested that the latest developments made the future Euro-Atlantic security treaty even more of a possibility. “I do not doubt that the forthcoming Russian-EU summit will consider the idea. And so will the first meeting of Medvedev and Obama scheduled to take place in the course of the economic G20 summit on November 15,” he said.

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