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Europe

Opinion: Bad Timing and Worse Talk From Russia's Medvedev

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave a speech to the nation shortly after the historic victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential election. It wasn't only the timing that was off, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Opinion

Originally, Russia's Medvedev wanted to hold his speech on the state of the nation in front of both chambers of the Russian parliament at the end of October. But then he posponed it until Nov. 5, just hours after the US presidential election. Given the tense relations between the West and Russia, there probably couldn't have been a worse time for a strategic speech by the Russian president than this day.

Ingo Mannteufel

Ingo Mannteufel

Medvedev's avoidance of the kind of fierce anti-American statements favored by some other Russian politicians speaks to his better political instincts. Still, it was unfortunate that Medvedev held the talk so shortly after Obama's victory.

The repetition of the rather simplistic viewpoint that the US is responsible for the war in Georgia, the financial crisis and every other ill afflicting the planet might have seemed convincing to some Russian ears, but it did nothing to address the complex realities of these issues. And it is not shared by countries in Europe, despite their often pointed criticism of Washington, especially after Americans voted for political change along with Barack Obama.

Russia's opposition to the US missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic is already well known. But the part of the speech that will stay in the minds of western politicians and citizens is Medvedev's announcement that Moscow will station short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.

Even if the military significance of Russian missiles in the middle of Europe is limited, it burnishes the image of an aggressive Russia. The missile plan is meant to show Russia's strength, but really it strengthens Europe's fear of Russia.

Stoking fears

Medvedev didn't do himself any favors with the timing of his speech or the foreign policy annoucement, even though some Kremlinologists believe he did offer something interesting: namely a reform program that includes lowering the seven-percent hurdle parties need to enter parliament and simplifying rules around party and candidate registration. Such changes could indicate careful efforts to liberalize the political structures created by Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev's harsh criticism of the all-powerful state bureaucracy and his plans for an education offensive illustrate that the president has understood where some of Russia's real problems lie. But while some of these propositions may fascinate Russia experts, they have almost no effect on public opinion in Europe.

That's because Obama's victory and the end of George W. Bush's eight-year tenure signal the start of a new phase in trans-Atlantic relations, which Russia wants no part of. And while Europe and the US do not agree on every political issue, Moscow should realize that for Europe -- and also for Germany -- the partnership with the US takes priority.

Europe's relationship with Russia is important but not on the same level as the trans-Atlantic one, even if that is something Russia doesn't like to hear.

Europe's feelings about the US were illustrated by the strong interest here in the recent US election, and also by the overwhelming European enthusiasm over Obama's victory. The only part of Medvedev's speech that will be remembered: Moscow is putting new missiles in Kaliningrad.

Ingo Mannteufel is the head of Deutsche Welle's Russian radio and online departments. (jam)

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