Medvedev Warns U.S. Against Shield

RIA-Novosti / APPresident Dmitry Medvedev riding with aides in an electric car to talks on Friday at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy.

L’AQUILA, Italy — President Dmitry Medvedev warned the United States on Friday that if it did not reach agreement with Russia on plans for missile defense systems, Moscow would deploy rockets in the Kaliningrad exclave near Poland.

In sharp contrast to his positive words during President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow earlier in the week when the two reached broad agreement on nuclear arms cuts, Medvedev used a news conference at the Group of Eight summit to return to Russia’s earlier tough rhetoric on arms control.

Referring to an order he gave earlier this year to prepare deployment of short-range missiles in Kaliningrad to answer any U.S. deployment of a missile shield in Central Europe, Medvedev said:

“If we don’t manage to agree on the issues, you know the consequences. What I said during my state of the nation address has not been revoked.”

Medvedev also appeared to change his tone on the missile defense shield itself.

During Obama’s visit, he told the U.S. leader, using markedly softer language than normal, that “no one is saying that missile defense is harmful in itself or that it poses a threat to someone.”

But at the G8 summit in Italy on Friday, Medvedev returned to a traditional posture on the system, describing it as “harmful” and “threatening to Russia.”

In Moscow, Medvedev and Obama agreed to a target for cuts in nuclear arms and a year-end deadline for a reduction deal. Obama praised Medvedev as a “straightforward professional” leader.

Before his Moscow visit, Obama made clear that he would not accept any effort by Moscow to link arms control to missile defense and reiterated Washington’s stance that any system would be to protect against a threat from Iran, not from Russia.

He has been less enthusiastic about the plan, which will put a radar installation in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, than predecessor George W. Bush but seems unlikely to abandon it without getting something in return.

The Czech Republic and Poland have signed treaties with Washington on the plan, with both governments making the project a priority to counter what they see as Russia’s continued influence in the region.

In Washington, meanwhile, the head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said the Obama administration was seeking full partnership with Moscow to bridge ballistic missile-defense differences that have strained U.S.-Russian ties for years.

“The [new] approach is to lay out ideas, and not to have a fully developed plan,” Army Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly said Thursday, referring to missile defense discussions with Russia.

“You need to move forward at a prudent pace so that there are collaborative decisions, intermediate decisions made along the way, so that there is true partnership,” he said.

Obama, during his visit to Moscow, called for a fresh era in bilateral security ties focusing on mutual interests. He and Medvedev agreed to pursue a plan, first floated in the 1990s, to open a “Joint Data Exchange Center” that would become the basis for sharing information on missile launches worldwide.

O’Reilly said he had not received any orders “to deviate” from expanding U.S. missile defenses into Poland and the Czech Republic.

O’Reilly said it would take up to five years for a missile field to be built in Poland and 4 1/2 years for the radar in the Czech Republic. These timelines are important because U.S. intelligence estimates Iran may be able to fire a long-range missile possibly tipped with a chemical, biological or nuclear warhead by 2015 or so.

Neither Poland nor the Czech Republic is expected to go ahead with ratification until they get a clear signal from the Obama administration that it is sticking with the Bush-era plan. The administration is studying possible alternatives as part of a broader missile defense review due to be completed in December, O’Reilly said.

“At this point, they’re still laying out alternatives,” he said. “Really, it’s pre-decisional.”

O’Reilly, who was in Moscow in May for missile-defense talks, said Russia was now seeing more eye to eye with the United States on the perceived danger from Iranian and North Korean progress in ballistic missile development.

“I think there was agreement on the facts, but disagreement on the interpretation of the data or the intent” previously, he said. “And as North Korea and Iran continue to demonstrate capability, those controversies are being eliminated.”