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Russian President Lashes Out At U.S. In First National Address

November 05, 2008

(RFE/RL) -- Hard-line rhetoric against the United States dominated Dmitry Medvedev's state-of-the-nation speech, one day after the historic election of Barack Obama as U.S. president.

Just minutes into the national address -- his first since taking office as Russian president in May -- Medvedev announced that Russia will deploy short-range missiles in its western enclave of Kaliningrad in response to Washington's missile-defense plans in Central Europe.

"In order to be able to neutralize the [U.S.] missile-defense system, we will deploy an Iskander missile complex in Kaliningrad Oblast," he said.

Russian officials have fiercely opposed Washington's plans to place elements of an antimissile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, claiming it threatens their country's national security.

In addition to deploying missiles in Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, Medvedev said Moscow intended to electronically jam parts of the proposed U.S. shield and cancel an earlier decision to decommission three missile regiments in its western city of Kozelsk.

Medvedev also blamed "selfish" U.S. foreign policy for provoking the August war between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Washington's staunch support of Georgia, he said, testifies to "the arrogant course of the U.S. administration, which hates criticism and prefers unilateral decisions."

"We will not step back in the Caucasus," he told about 1,000 legislators, top government officials, religious leaders, and journalists assembled in the Kremlin's ornate St. George's Hall.

He also accused the NATO alliance of taking advantage of the war to advance its military expansion.

"The conflict in the Caucasus was used as a pretext for bringing NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the foisting on Europe of America's missile-defense systems, which will in turn entail retaliatory measures by Russia," Medvedev said.

Much of Medvedev's speech was devoted to the global financial turmoil, which has had a severe impact on Russian markets.

Here, too, the Russian president blamed the United States for wreaking havoc on the world economy, accusing it of spawning a financial crisis that "dragged down" the world's markets into recession.

He nonetheless sought to play down the crisis's impact on Russia, which he pledged would "come out of it even stronger."

Although his speech comes just a day after Barack Obama was elected president, Medvedev conspicuously failed to congratulate the United States' first-ever African-American leader on his landmark victory.

He simply voiced hope that the new U.S. administration will choose to improve increasingly strained ties with Russia.

For Russian Ears

Political analysts say Medvedev's national address may have been intentionally timed to be overshadowed by the U.S. presidential vote, which has captivated the world's attention. Many believe the harsh rhetoric was designed for internal consumption rather than for Western ears.

Besides his recurrent barbs at Washington, a large portion of Medvedev's speech focused on domestic issues. The Russian leader vowed not veer off the path set by his predecessor and mentor Vladimir Putin, who was watching from a front-row seat.

Among his key proposals was an initiative to extend the presidential and parliamentary terms of office, to six years for the president and five years for the State Duma.

The measure, which he described as indispensable to implement reforms more effectively, is Medvedev's first major proposal to amend the Russian Constitution.

He further pledged to take a tough stance on extremism, corruption, and what the former lawyer called "legal nihilism."

His remarks came a day after police detained more than 500 ultranationalist demonstrators who attempted to stage an unsanctioned rally in Moscow.

Medvedev also called for a raft of political reforms, including steps to make the executive branch more accountable and help smaller parties win better representation in parliament.


Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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