Geopolitical Diary: Ivanov's Warning to Washington

2 MINS READJul 5, 2007 | 02:00 GMT
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov warned on Wednesday that Moscow will have no choice but to install new missile systems in Western Russia if the United States proceeds with plans to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) shield in Central Europe. Specifically, he said, the return of nuclear-armed missiles to Kaliningrad — a sliver of Russian territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania — would be all but inevitable. Talk of missiles, nuclear and otherwise, has become all the rage in Moscow since the United States publicly said it wants a hedge — as imperfect as U.S. nuclear missile defense technology might be — against the possibility of a future Iranian ICBM program. Various Russian politicians have promised various Russian responses, but most — even those in supposedly lofty positions, such as the prime and foreign ministers — have no influence over state policy. That power rests solely in the hands of President Vladimir Putin, who spent most of his soon-to-be-expired two terms in office consolidating power. But now there is a second person Russia-watchers should take seriously: Ivanov. Since a November 2005 Cabinet reshuffle, Putin has been field training Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, the other first deputy prime minister, as his potential successors. Recently, however, Putin's feelings toward Medvedev have turned sour, and Ivanov has emerged as the clear front-runner. Unlike Medvedev, an economist, Ivanov shares Putin's background in intelligence and served as defense minister before his most recent promotion. As Putin evaluated his two possible replacements, the change in the West's view of Russia figured into this decision. A West more congenial toward Russia might have found itself dealing with Medvedev's natural gas policies; however, a more aggressive West will have to deal with Ivanov's military strategy. Barring missteps or stray bullets, Ivanov is the only serious candidate in the March 2008 Russian presidential election, in which only one vote matters: that of Putin. All that remains for Ivanov to do now — to put it bluntly — is not screw up. That seems like a rather short order, but bear in mind that a year ago that was all Medvedev needed to do as well.

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