assessments

Russia's Medvedev Targets Missile Defense in Annual Speech

4 MINS READNov 30, 2010 | 13:36 GMT
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's Nov. 30 State of the State address targeted two significant topics: modernization and missile defense. In the annual speech, he issued a veiled threat that, should a satisfactory agreement not be found on the issue of missile defense, a new stage of the arms race would commence.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave his third State of the State address on Nov 30. The speech — as expected — listed the need to focus on and improve education, combat corruption and beef up the economy. But STRATFOR was closely watching how Russia would tackle two specific issues: modernization and foreign policy. Russian presidents have tended to use the State of the State addresses as platforms to boldly tell the country and the world where Russia stands. The speeches are typically neither light nor diplomatic. For example, in the 2005 and 2007 speeches, then-President (and now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin laid out how Russia was consolidating its power domestically and influence abroad and would soon leap back onto the global stage — which it has. In 2008, just after the Russia-Georgia war, Medvedev laid out how Russia could defend itself once again against an encroaching U.S. influence. In that speech, Medvedev stated that the United States was responsible for Georgia's push into war, as well as for the global financial crisis. But there was a shift in tone in the 2009 speech: Russia took a softer stance on foreign issues because it was about to launch its massive modernization and privatization programs. The Kremlin knew that it could not be too aggressive in its address if it wanted to attract foreign partnerships and investments into these programs. In the most recent speech, the modernization initiatives were the key focus. Medvedev wove the modernization issues through the domestic and foreign sections of the speech, highlighting how vital the programs are for Russia's future. Such a theme is justified, as Russia's modernization programs will affect the struggling and outdated sectors of energy, information technology, telecommunications, transportation, businesses and military. Medvedev tied in the fact that modernization was a key issue driving the Kremlin's foreign policy and bridging alliances with foreign partners. Medvedev highlighted another foreign policy objective: missile defense. As STRATFOR had previously indicated, the Russian president's speech was delayed by a week for the Kremlin to digest the recent NATO-Russia summit. The summit revealed, much to Russia's delight, massive fault lines forming within the alliance. In this, Russia has been pushing its own security pact with specific European heavyweights — mainly Germany and France — a topic Medvedev stressed in his speech. But the main reason Russia postponed the State of the State address was to get a better feel for where the alliance, especially the United States, stood on the key issue of ballistic missile defense. During the summit, NATO and Russia agreed to discuss whether Russia could be involved in the alliance's missile defense plans; the agreement was vague and will not really allow Moscow any say. But the important part of the discussion was that NATO's agreement (with or without Russia) does not include the ability to influence the United States' missile defense plans in Europe, which is a serious issue for Moscow. At the summit, Russia was looking for an agreement with NATO that would give either the alliance's heavyweights or Moscow a voice if Washington launches bilateral agreements with Central Europeans on missile defense. This was far from what Russia got. So, when the issue was broached in Medvedev's speech, the Russian president gave a veiled threat: Unless Russia reaches a satisfactory agreement on the issue of missile defense with the United States or NATO, a new stage of the arms race would commence, and Russia would make its security decisions based on that development. Russia has now drawn the line with the West, and the United States' missile defense plans are at the heart of the issue. But more interesting is that in the more-than-hourlong speech, Medvedev only mentioned the United States briefly as one of the partners for modernization, rather than as the traditional focus as the global heavyweight in the foreign policy section of the speech. The snub was clear. STRATFOR sources indicated that if Medvedev had had a friendly meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the NATO summit, then Russian-U.S. relations (especially the “reset” between the countries) was to be commended in the State of the State address. But between the disregard for Washington and the red line drawn over missile defense, Moscow seems to be making a statement that relations are not as warm as previously portrayed.

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