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Medvedev Challenges US, Hopes Obama Means Change

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev nominally said he hoped for improved ties with the new US president, but also that Russia would fight US missile defense plans by deploying missiles near Poland.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Medvedev blamed the US for the Georgian war and the financial crisis

In his first state-of-the-nation speech since taking office in May, Medvedev on Wednesday, Nov. 5, did not mention president-elect Barack Obama by name and lashed out at the United States', seeming to challenge its policy on all fronts.

Medvedev, 43, began the address in the Kremlin's most sumptuous St. George hall by charging Washington with encouraging Georgia's "barbaric aggression," which Russia says led it into a five-day war in Georgia's separatist region of South Ossetia in August.

He said the US had used the war as a pretext for NATO enlargement, which Moscow views along with the missile defense plans as a US-led threat to its security, and placed blame for the global financial crisis on US "selfish" and "reckless" policies.

Hope for better ties

Campaign buttons for Barack Obama

Moscow hopes for improved ties with Washington

Russia's relations with the US deteriorated under the presidencies of Medvedev's predecessor Vladimir Putin and US President George W. Bush, unraveling cooperation on non-nuclear proliferation, Iran and other issues.

"I would like to stress that we have no problems with the American people. We have no inherent anti-Americanism," Medvedev said in the nationally televised address.

But he placed the onus on Obama's new administration to seek compromise, saying he hoped they would "make a choice in favor of fully-fledged relations with Russia."

Missile stand-off in eastern Europe

The Kremlin leader also called for an extension of the presidential term from four to six years among other political reforms that will set Washington on watch for any back-tracking on what it already views as a frail democracy in Russia.

The announcement that Moscow would deploy short-range Iskander missiles in its Baltic Sea enclave Kaliningrad bordering with Poland was the first detailing of retaliatory steps Russia has said it would take to counter a US missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Protest in Prague against US missile shield

US plans for a missile defense shield ruffled some feather in eastern Europe

Medvedev added that the navy would also be called upon and an electronic-blocking radar would be deployed to impair the US missile elements planned in Poland and the Czech Republic. He did not did not say whether the Iskander installations would be nuclear armed.

Minutes into his speech Wednesday, Medvedev blamed US policy for recklessness in spreading its financial ills to global markets and it could no longer stand up as the underwriter of the global financial order.

Blame for financial crisis, Georgian war

"We need to create mechanisms that would block erroneous, egotistical and sometimes even dangerous decisions by some members of the global community," Medvedev said.

He added Russia's recent war with Georgia was a product of US self-interests and unilateral foreign policy that was detrimental to the stability of the volatile region and the greater security order.

Medvedev added that Washington had sought to use the war in Georgia to push forward NATO expansion along Russia's borders beyond its conventional purview as a Western military alliance.

"The conflict in the Caucasus was used as a pretext for sending NATO warships to the Black Sea and then for the forceful foisting on Europe of the US' anti-missile systems, which in its turn will entail retaliatory measures by Russia," Medvedev told the assembled parliamentary officials.

His hawkish criticism of US foreign policy aped Putin's resurgent and confrontational foreign policy.

Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush

Under Putin and Bush, ties were cordial but cool

After the war with Georgia, Putin accused one of the US presidential candidates of trumping up the conflict to improve his chances of victory, and said the war will be as important in shaping future Russian foreign policy as 9/11 was to the US.

Expecting a 'fresh approach' from Obama

But other top Russian officials anticipated that Obama meant a possibility for a thaw in relations. He is widely seen in Russia as more open to dialogue and flexible on issues such as missile defense where his rival John McCain was viewed as representing a throwback to Cold War policy of containment.

Shortly after ribbing the United States in his address, Medvedev telegrammed congratulations to Obama, stressing the importance of cooperation between the two countries for global security.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said he anticipated a "fresh approach" from the US under Obama that leaves behind the "stereotypes" for Cold War confrontation.

"We believe that the US president will himself shape the tone of relations with Russia. As to the president's advisors, they will also have the possibility to look in a new way at the old approaches and maybe to review the stereotypes that earlier were intrinsic to them," Karasin told news agency Interfax on Wednesday.

Moscow drew heavy criticism from the west for its intervention in US-ally Georgia's breakaway regions, which it recognized as independent after the war in August.

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