Russian President Warns of New Cold War Over Missile Defense

President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday warned of a new Cold War era if Russia and the West fail to agree on missile defense, in the first major news conference of his presidency. By AFP/Newscore

Despite the startling warning to the United States and Europe, Medvedev confounded expectations he would use the event to finally announce if he intends to seek a new Kremlin mandate in 2012 elections.

Russia is increasingly worried about US plans to build missile defense facilities in ex-Communist eastern Europe and is also offended that NATO appears to have shunned its proposals for a joint missile defense shield.

President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that he believes that Russia could modernize faster than his powerful predecessor Vladimir Putin thinks, but he remained coy about whether he plans to seek a second term.

Medvedev told reporters that the US decision to push ahead with construction of the missile defense 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,” Medvedev warned.

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.”

The United States insisted it viewed Russia as a partner on security issues rather than a threat. “We have been consistent and clear for many years now that our missile defense cooperation in no way is directed at Russia,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

“And in fact we want to cooperate on missile defense with Russia and we have been quite clear on that,” Toner added.

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 defenses.

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 defense 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 stood, US presidential style, alone at a lectern against the backdrop of the Russian flag.

Hundreds of reporters attended the news conference, which was a major event for Medvedev who so far has only spoken to the press alongside foreign leaders or in small scale briefings.

Seeking to show his confidence, Medvedev chose each question apparently at random from journalists in the audience, many of whom concentrated on local issues.

But despite intense speculation that he wants to stand for a new presidential term instead of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Medvedev refused to say if he intended to seek a new mandate in 2012.

“This kind of decision has to be made when all the conditions are right, when it has the final political effect,” Medvedev said.