Russia has some change ready for Obama

“Change”, in this case, consists of missile deployments on the frontiers of NATO.  Russian president Dmitri Medvedev announced the move yesterday in a speech that never once mentioned the new American President-elect, but caustically criticized the Western approach to Moscow.  Medvedev also reversed course on missile disarmament in western Russia:

President Medvedev ordered missiles to be stationed up against Nato’s borders yesterday to counter American plans to build a missile defence shield.

Speaking within hours of Barack Obama’s election, Mr Medvedev announced that Russia would base Iskander missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad – the former German city – next to the border with Poland.

He did not say whether the short-range missiles would carry nuclear warheads.

Taking advantage of the world’s attention on the US elections, Mr Medvedev also cancelled plans to withdraw three intercontinental ballistic missile regiments from western Russia by 2010.

This would appear to be the first major challenge to Obama, even though he has not yet taken office.  Russia carefully watched as Obama denigrated missile-defense research and deployment during the primaries, and then remained carefully silent about it in the general election.  They want to see whether they can intimidate Obama into retreat, even after eastern European nations like Poland and the Czech Republic have already signed onto a partnership with the US for these missile-defense stations.

Joe Biden warned that Obama would face just such a test early in his term.  He also warned that Obama’s reaction would not look like smart strategy, and told Obama supporters that they would have to stick by him while Obama received massive criticism for his actions.  One can interpret that in two different ways: either Obama’s response would anger his supporters, or it would anger everyone else.

I’m hoping that Obama sticks to American commitments in the region.  Given his comments about ending missile-defense research and deployment, I’m afraid that Obama will run away from Russia on this point, and that the first Medvedev/Putin-Obama confrontation will remind people even more of the disastrous Kennedy-Khrushchev summit in 1961 that precipitated the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis.