- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2008

MOSCOW

Russia will deploy missiles near NATO member Poland in response to U.S. missile defense plans, President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday in his first state of the nation speech.

Mr. Medvedev also singled out the United States for criticism, casting Russia’s war with Georgia in August and the global financial turmoil as consequences of aggressive, selfish U.S. policies.

He said he hoped the next U.S. administration would act to improve relations. In a separate telegram, he congratulated President-elect Barack Obama on his victory and said he was hoping for “constructive dialogue” with the incoming U.S. president.

Mr. Medvedev also proposed increasing the Russian presidential term to six years from the current four, a major constitutional change that would further increase the power of the head of state and could deepen Western concern over democracy in Russia.

Mr. Medvedev said the term of parliament also should be extended by a year to five years. The proposals were Mr. Medvedev’s first major initiative to amend the constitution since he was elected in March to succeed his longtime mentor Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin, who is now prime minister and has not ruled out a return to the Kremlin in the future, has favored increasing the presidential term.

Mr. Medvedev said Iskander missiles will be deployed to Russia’s Kaliningrad region, which lies between Poland and the ex-Soviet republic of Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. Equipment to electronically hamper the operation of prospective U.S. missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic will be deployed, he said.

He did not say whether the short-range Iskander missiles would be fitted with nuclear warheads.

“Mechanisms must be created to block mistaken, egotistical and sometimes simply dangerous decisions of certain members of the international community,” he said shortly after starting the 85-minute speech, making it clear he was referring to the United States.

The president said Georgia sparked the August war on its territory with what he called “barbaric aggression” against the Russian-backed region of South Ossetia. The conflict “was, among other things, the result of the arrogant course of the American administration, which did not tolerate criticism and preferred unilateral decisions.”

Mr. Medvedev also painted Russia as a country threatened by growing Western military might.

“From what we have seen in recent years, the creation of a missile defense system, the encirclement of Russia with military bases, the relentless expansion of NATO, we have gotten the clear impression that they are testing our strength,” Mr. Medvedev said.

Speaking just hours after Mr. Obama was declared the victor in the U.S. presidential election, Mr. Medvedev said he hoped the incoming administration would take steps to improve severely damaged U.S. ties with Russia. He suggested it is up to the U.S. - not the Kremlin - to seek to improve relations.

“I stress that we have no problem with the American people, no inborn anti-Americanism. And we hope that our partners, the U.S. administration, will make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia,” he said.

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