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Russia itching to test Obama

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UPDATE - Reuters is reporting that Russian President Medvedev may expand the power of the office only to step aside and allow former President Vladimir Putin, now serving as prime minister, to come back into power.

The major change that Medvedev may institute would be extending the president’s term from four to six years. If Putin returned as president in 2009, that means he could rule Russia until 2021.

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Well that didn’t take long.

Russia welcomed President-elect Barack Obama on to the world stage Wednesday with a threat to move missile launchers into Kaliningrad, a region in between Poland and Lithuania, unless the incoming administration backs off a Bush administration plan for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the Russian missile launchers would be deployed to “neutralize” the U.S. system, which the Bush administration has said would defend Europe and Russia from the threat of a missile strike by Iran.

Russia has been flexing its muscles in recent years, flush with oil wealth and a renewed sense of national pride, and most recently demonstrated its disregard for international opinion when it invaded the nation of Georgia, a former Soviet bloc country.

Other former bloc countries like Ukraine and Poland fear the Kremlin’s aggression may spread.

President Bush faced Russian opposition from then President Vladimir Putin in 2001, when he first took office. The Bush administration has labored in two terms to gain acceptance of the idea from Poland, where 10 interceptor missile launchers would be stationed, and in the Czech Republic, where a radar station would be built.

Within the last year, Polish and Czech leaders have agreed to the idea, pushed partly by increasing Russian belligerence. Mr. Putin, now the country’s prime minister, still regards the U.S. plan as a threat to his country and a provocation.

This will be one of the key issues to watch in President-elect Obama’s first days in office, and maybe even earlier.

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