Telegraph UK (Link) - Adrian Blomfield (March 17, 2009)
The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has ordered a 'comprehensive' military rearmament after accusing NATO of once again encroaching on Moscow's sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union.
Mr. Medvedev's bellicose speech risks causing unease in Washington and will dampen hopes of a rapid improvement in strained East-West relations.
The president told defence ministry officials in Moscow that NATO's continued enlargement ambitions meant that Russia had been left with no choice but to increase its conventional and nuclear combat preparedness.
The threat to Russia's stability had also been increased by local crises, Mr. Medvedev added, in an apparent reference to last year's five-day war with Georgia. "The attempts to enlarge NATO's military infrastructure are not ceasing," said Mr. Medvedev. "All this calls for qualitatively modernising our armed forces and reshaping their image. This involves the enhancement of combat preparedness of our troops, primarily the strategic nuclear forces."
A "comprehensive re-armament" of the Russian army and navy will begin in 2011, the president announced.
Despite the aggressive symbolism of the word, US officials are less likely to be concerned about Mr. Medvedev's talk of rearmament than they are of his antagonistic references to NATO.
After a decade of near-collapse in the 1990s, Russia, under the stewardship of the prime minister Vladimir Putin, has launched an ambitious military overhaul that has seen defence spending quintuple since 2001.
Defence spending is to rise still further over the coming years, as Russia embarks on a total military modernisation programme, due to be complete by 2020 that includes a full upgrade of the country's nuclear deterrent.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Medvedev's comments referred to existing defence plans or heralded the beginning of a previously undisclosed phase of re-armament. With Russia's economy in deep crisis, it is unclear how Mr. Medvedev would fund a new rearmament programme.
It is the anti-NATO rhetoric, more typically associated with Mr. Putin, that will cause disappointment in Western capitals. Senior officials in Washington have been convinced they can embark on a new era of friendly ties with Moscow after President Barack Obama spoke of hitting "the reset button" in the East-West relationship.
This week a bipartisan committee in Washington called on the White House to stop encouraging bids by Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. The Kremlin bitterly opposes membership for either ex-Soviet states, which it says are part of Russia's "privileged sphere of influence".
There have also been signs that the United States is having second thoughts about plans to erect a missile-defence shield in central Europe, a proposal that has also caused significant friction with Russia.
Amid all the talk of reconciliation, Mr. Medvedev's comments will therefore strike a jarring note. The optimists in Washington will argue that the Russian president's strident tone was aimed at a domestic audience, while the pessimists will take it as evidence that pushing the reset button is not quite as easy as the new administration might have assumed.
The Pentagon played down Mr. Medvedev’s comments. Geoff Morrell, its spokesman, said that Russia was “perfectly entitled to a robust self-defence”, adding that there had been no “alarm” among US defence chiefs.