Moscow Remains Overtly Contentious

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MOSCOW, July 15 -- President Dmitry Medvedev signaled Tuesday that Russian foreign policy, ostensibly now under his control, will not stray from the often contentious course set by his predecessor. Former president Vladimir Putin clashed with the West on a host of issues, including the proposed installation of a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe and the eastward expansion of the NATO alliance.

Medvedev said that Russia, buoyed by oil revenue and increasing self-confidence, will continue to pursue the assertive global role that Putin made a centerpiece of his foreign policy. "Russia has become stronger and is capable of assuming greater responsibility for solving problems on both a regional and global scale," Medvedev said, speaking to a gathering of Russia's senior diplomats at the Foreign Ministry here.

In recent days, the continuity of Putin's foreign policy under Medvedev was visible in different arenas.

On Friday, Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have punished Zimbabwe's leadership for the conduct of presidential elections in which opposition supporters were killed and beaten to try to prevent any challenge to the incumbent, Robert Mugabe.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Russia of reneging on a commitment made at the summit of the Group of Eight industrial countries in Japan this month to support sanctions. He said the veto "raises questions about its reliability as a G-8 partner." But Russian officials, who publicly bristled at the criticism, said Medvedev never committed himself to U.N. sanctions.

Analysts here said it was never likely that Russia would join a U.N. effort to punish another country for fraudulent elections. Elections in Russia, including that which brought Medvedev to office, and votes in allied neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan, have been the subject of criticism by Western election observers.

Medvedev also attacked U.S. efforts to install a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. "Deployment of elements of the U.S. global antimissile system in Eastern Europe only makes the situation worse," he said. "We will need to react to this adequately. Our American and European partners have been warned."

Last week, two days after the Czech Republic signed a formal agreement with the United States for deployment of a radar system, Russian oil supplies to the Czech Republic suddenly dipped. Russian officials said the reasons were technical and commercial. But the slowdown raised suspicions that the Kremlin was using its power as an energy supplier to exact punishment.

"Russia has provided no plausible explanation so far except that there are problems with oil extraction on their oil fields," the Czech Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "But this is hard to believe given the fact that neighboring countries face no cuts whatsoever."

A foreign policy statement posted on the Kremlin's Web site this week said: "Russia continues to disapprove of NATO expansion, in particular its plans to admit Ukraine and Georgia as new members and to bring NATO military infrastructure closer to Russian borders." The statement said NATO expansion "leads to new dividing lines in Europe."

"We are really worried by the fact that there is still no modern collective security system that would be open for all," Medvedev said in his speech Tuesday. He did not invoke Putin's threats that neighboring states that join NATO or host a U.S. missile defense system could be targeted by Russian missiles.

Medvedev also echoed Putin's criticism of U.S. military action in Iraq. "The experience of recent years, especially in Iraq and the Middle East, shows that today's global problems cannot be resolved through the direct use of force," he said. "We need reform of international institutions and a strengthened role for the United Nations. This position of ours remains unchanged."

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