international, Russia, new cold war
RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky/AP
Vladimir Putin

EU, Obama Move to Thaw Possible New Cold War

November 10, 2008 12:29 PM
by Christopher Coats
Responding to their increasingly frigid relationship with Medvedev's Russia, both President-elect Barack Obama and EU leaders have begun calling for talks and urging calm.

All Sides Take Steps Toward Easing Tension

As both Obama and Medvedev called for prompt talks following a post-Election Day phone conversation, EU leaders urged a return to regional partnership talks, amid fears that Russia was moving toward an increasingly isolated and aggressive position in the world.

In a joint statement, reprentatives from Sweden and the United Kingdom urged hesitant nations such as Poland and Lithuania, to support a return to talks with Russia following a cooling of relations amid a surge of fiery rhetoric and the country's military incursion into South Ossetia. 

Adding that they disagreed with Russia's continued presence in the disputed separatist region of neighboring Georgia, the countries urged a return for the sake of progress, and "a pragmatic way of pursuing our interests across a range of important issues, like energy, climate change and trade," according to the BBC.

Meanwhile, the call from both sides for renewed U.S.-Russian talks comes shortly after Medvedev offered sharp words and thinly veiled threats for the American actions in the region, widely seen as a direct challenge to the incoming administration.

Addressing the media last week and flanked by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced he would move to extend his country’s presidential term limit from four to six years.

The announcement, which analysts speculate could result in an extension of power for the current president and Putin lasting until 2024, came as Russia announced that they would move an arsenal of nuclear missiles to their western border with Poland if the U.S. went ahead with plans to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Both actions, Medvedev explained, were intended to offer “stability and help Russia deal with massive global challenges,” though the missiles appear to be a direct challenge to the Pentagon-sponsored defense shield to be built in Poland.

The announcements, accompanied by sharp words for the United States, whose current policy was called “arrogant” and unilateral, represent a further escalation of regional tensions centered on recent efforts to include former Soviet states and Russian neighbors in Western-sponsored policy efforts, specifically NATO.

Earlier this year, Moldova used this tension to their advantage by asking for regional sovereignty over a disputed region in exchange for promising never to join NATO.
The timing of Medvedev’s address, the day after the U.S. elections, also suggests that his actions are meant as a direct challenge to the new president, Barack Obama.

Although NATO and Pentagon supporters of the U.S. missile defense system have said it is intended for use against a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, Russia has repeatedly expressed displeasure for the system’s close proximity to its borders.

In return, the Russian missiles would be trained directly at U.S. radar and missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic “to neutralize, when necessary,” according to The Washington Post.

The missiles would be accompanied by radar-jamming equipment.

Insisting that Russia has no choice but to station the short-range missiles, Medvedev told a national television audience that his hand was being forced by an increased U.S. presence in the region.

“We have told our partners more than once that we want positive cooperation … but unfortunately, they don’t want to listen,” Medvedev was reported saying in the Guardian.

Offering what regional observers see as the most direct challenge to the United States since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Medvedev’s threat was accompanied by direct criticism of the United States on an array of issues, from the global economic crisis to his country’s actions in South Ossetia earlier this year.

Within Russia, Medvedev’s move to extend the presidential term to six years has given the impression that Putin, who handed the reigns over to Medvedev in May of this year, could seek a return to power.

Financial Times reports that Medvedev’s appeal to extend the presidential term is not so much aimed at extending his own time in office as it is to assure a possible 12-year return for Putin.

Russian law currently limits a president to two four-year terms but does not forbid a return to office after time spent away.

Background: Tension mounts

Although Medvedev’s direct warnings surprised some, his actions are only the latest in a series of events seen to increase tensions between Russia and the United States.

A year of sharp exchanges about global expansion and Russia’s increasingly close military and economic relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez culminated in an exchange of direct criticism and threats following the incursion of Russian troops into a break-away region of neighboring Georgia.

Following the standoff over Georgia’s South Ossetia region, Russia sent warships to Venezuelan borders, further inflaming the tension between their government and the West.

Response: US insists no ill intent

Although the Obama campaign has so far remained quiet on the developments, the current administration expressed frustration following Medvedev’s speech, insisting once again that their missile defense system in Eastern Europe was not directed at Russia in any way.

“Certainly, the Russian action is disappointing,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told the Voice of America. “This missile defense site is designed to protect against rogue states, for example Iran, who are working on long-range missile technology.”

Opinion & Analysis: Hands may be tied

Writing for CNBC Europe, Pamela Ann Smith argues that Russia’s recent incursion into Georgia has transformed the region by removing any doubt that Medvedev would send troops beyond his borders.

This development, Smith says, has made many of the former Soviet republics and NATO allies increasingly nervous, with some looking to the West and NATO leadership in Brussels for some sort of response.

Yet many NATO countries have kept quiet about Russia’s movement west due to the fact that so many, including Germany, France and Italy, are now reliant on the country’s energy supplies.

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