Russia's Latest Move To Stymie U.S. Efforts in Central Europe

5 MINS READNov 23, 2011 | 18:48 GMT
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev issued an order Nov. 23 to Russia's army commanders to prepare to deploy short-range ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave bordering Lithuania and Poland. This is the latest and most direct move showing that the 2009 "reset" in relations between Moscow and Washington was a temporary truce, as Russia is now focusing on preventing the deployment of U.S. military equipment and forces in Central Europe.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Nov. 23 ordered Russia's army commanders to prepare to deploy mobile, short-range ballistic missiles to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders Lithuania and Poland. Though Russia has threatened to deploy missiles to Kaliningrad in the past, this is the first time it has used this threat since the so-called reset in relations between the United States and Russia in 2009. Medvedev's order is only the latest — and most direct — development indicating that the reset was nothing more than a temporary truce allowing each side to focus on other issues but not addressing Moscow and Washington's fundamental geopolitical differences. The order was handed down to a missile brigade equipped with the Iskander-M, Russia's most modern and accurate tactical ballistic missile, with the explicit directive of countering the planned U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield in Central Europe, Medvedev said. He went on to say Russia could also base long-range, so-called strategic weapons in southern and western Russia, an apparent reference to intermediate-range weapons banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Such weapons would be able to strike European targets in minutes. Medvedev also mentioned intercontinental-range delivery systems capable of penetrating the U.S. BMD system. Russia's opposition to both the George W. Bush administration's Poland/Czech Republic BMD plans and the current "phased, adaptive approach" has nothing to do with BMD. Rather, Moscow wants to portray U.S. BMD plans in Europe as destabilizing the U.S.-Russian nuclear balance in an attempt to block the deployment of U.S. military forces into former Warsaw Pact countries. One angle Russia has pursued has been integration, by which Russia intended to limit the need for U.S. military systems to be located in Central Europe. BMD has been the subject of one of the more prominent disputes between Russia and the United States in recent years, as it indicates that Washington considers Moscow a threat that needs to be contained. In recent years Russia and the United States backed away from their hostile stances when the United States proposed a reset of relations. This did not mean that either Washington or Moscow believed relations would be warm; rather, both were buying time in order to take care of other concerns. The United States needed time to wrap up its obligations in Afghanistan and counter a resurging Iranian power — and to do this, it needed Russia’s help. Russia, meanwhile, needed time to continue its resurgence into its former Soviet states, pushing out the encroaching Western influence. Though Washington is still preoccupied with other parts of the world, Russia has been fairly successful in its goals. The next problem Moscow wants to address is the countries just beyond the former Soviet border — Central Europe — and Washington's BMD system and intentions to deploy U.S. forces in those countries. Russia has been very forward in telling the United States that if it does not agree to let Moscow take part in missile defense in Europe, then Russia will respond to undermine the United States' efforts. Since August, Russia and the United States have been in negotiations about finding a role for Russia in such a program, though Washington has not shown any sign of backing down. STRATFOR sources in Moscow have indicated that the Kremlin believes the United States is dragging out these negotiations in order to keep buying time. The BMD dispute is only one indicator of the ephemeral nature of the reset in relations between Washington and Moscow. On Nov. 22, the U.S. State Department said it would stop providing Russia with data on its military forces in Europe — the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty calls for this exchange of information. Russia suspended its observance of the treaty in 2007, when tensions between the United States and Russia were quickly escalating. The United States said it would not work with Russia on sharing such information until Russia returned to the table to negotiate the CFE treaty. Moreover, the U.S. Senate has stalled a vote on appointing an ambassador to Russia; Republican senators have said the United States needs to reconsider whether there truly ever was a reset in relations. Another indicator of Russia's backing away from the reset is Medvedev's Nov. 21 statement that the Russian military intervention in Georgia was about pushing back against NATO's intentions to expand to the former Soviet states. Until then, Russia had said the 2008 Russo-Georgian war was about preventing "genocide" in South Ossetia (though it was quietly understood that the war was a signal to the West that Russia was going to reclaim its dominance over its former Soviet sphere in any way it saw fit). Now Moscow has moved further away from the reset by ordering preparations for the most overt deployment of Russian military force since Georgia in 2008. At this time it is still just preparation, but it is meant as a signal to the United States about Russia's next step. Although Russia has made this threat in the past — before the reset — the repeat of the threat to move missiles to Kaliningrad is significant.

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