Medvedev warns of Cold War over missile defence
President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday warned of a new Cold War era if Russia and the West failed to agree on missile defence, in the the first major news conference of his presidency.
Despite the startlingly blunt warning to the United States and Europe, Medvedev confounded expectations he would use the event to finally announce if he intended to seek a new Kremlin mandate in 2012 elections.
Russia is increasingly worried about US plans to build missile defence facilities in ex-Communist eastern Eurrope and is also offended that NATO appears to have shunned its proposals for a joint missile defence shield.
Medvedev told reporters that the US decision to push ahead with construction of the missile defence system despite Russia's objections will force Moscow "to take retaliatory measures -- something that we would very much rather not do."
"We would then be talking about developing the offensive potential of our nuclear capabilities. This would be a very bad scenario."
The Russian leader also reiterated an earlier threat to pull out of the new START disarmament agreement that entered into force this year if the missile shield is deployed and operated without the Kremlin's input.
"This would be a very bad scenario. It would be a scenario that throws us back into the Cold War era."
Moscow has been fighting NATO plans to deploy a system the West sees as a means of protection from nations such as Iran but Russia believes could potentially be deployed against its own defences.
Medvedev on Wednesday demanded a legally-binding assurance from the United States that this will never happen -- a safeguard that Moscow says Washington is refusing to give.
NATO has thus far invited Russia to voice its concerns in formal meetings but refused to provide Moscow with a formal role in the shield's operation that it seeks.
"We would like to see missile defence develop under clear rules," Medvedev said in the first broad-ranging press conference of his three-year presidency.
The news conference, at a technology hub on the outskirts of Moscow, was broadcast live on Russian state television. Medvedev standing US presidential style standing alone at a lectern against the backdrop of the Russian flag.
Hundreds of reporters attended the news conference, in a major event for Medvedev who so far has only spoken to the press alongside foreign leaders or in small scale briefings.
In a bid to show his ability to deal with a large scale event, Medvedev chose each question apparently at random from journalists in the audience, many of whom concentrated on local issues.
But to the disappointment of those who expected a major domestic political announcement, Medvedev refused to say if he intended to seek a new mandate in 2012 although he said an announcement on the decision should be expected soon.
"This kind of decision has to be made when all the conditions are right, when it has the final political effect," Medvedev said.
"That is exactly why I think that in order to make such a political decision, you have to select slightly different formats than a press conference," he added.
"This does not mean that this can last for ever... As I said in the interview to your Chinese colleagues, this decision will come fairly soon," he said, referring to a recent interview with Chinese television.
Medvedev said it was wrong for rulers to stay in power for too long, although he made these comments in reference to Russia's powerful regional governors whom he has reshuffled drastically in the last years.
"No-one stays in power for ever. And if anyone has that kind of illusion then they will end badly," said.
© 2011 AFP