Thursday, November 6, 2008
BARACK OBAMA's election victory prompted an impressive outpouring of goodwill from around the world yesterday -- but also the first hints of the testing that his running mate, Joseph R. Biden Jr., predicted. Kenya declared a national holiday, Britain's largest-circulation newspaper called Mr. Obama's victory "one giant leap for mankind" and even Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez proposed "new relations between our countries." Then came a Bronx cheer from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who delivered a speech harshly attacking the United States and reiterating threats to deploy new missile systems within range of U.S. NATO allies. It would be up to Mr. Obama, Mr. Medvedev suggested with a typical absence of subtlety, to "make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia."
It's not surprising that the regime of Mr. Medvedev and his master, Vladimir Putin, would be the first to try intimidating the president-elect, though the speed with which it did so might have surprised even Mr. Biden. The principal aims of Mr. Putin's foreign policy are restoring Soviet-style domination of Russia's neighbors, such as Georgia and Ukraine, and proving that Moscow can still act as a counterweight to the United States. So Mr. Medvedev yesterday blamed the United States for Russia's invasion of Georgia and said that international "mechanisms must be created to block mistaken, egotistical and sometimes simply dangerous decisions" by Washington.
The point of deploying new missiles in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, as Mr. Medvedev pledged to do yesterday, is to bluff the new U.S. administration or its NATO allies into abandoning a plan to deploy a rudimentary missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. As Mr. Putin well knows, the defense system is aimed at Iran and would be powerless to stop Russian ICBMs. But the Russians also know that missile defense is regarded skeptically by many Democrats, because of questions about its cost and effectiveness. Moscow's crude logic is that Mr. Obama can be pressured into "a choice" to abandon the system -- thereby proving Russia's position to be equal to that of a weakening America.
We expect that Mr. Obama will be smart enough not to fall for this. He's already made it clear that he intends to stand against Russia's aggression in Europe. We share some of the doubts about the missile deployment -- but if it is slowed or canceled, it should be done without reference to Moscow. Unlike some of the probes that will be aimed at Mr. Obama in the coming months, Russia's latest crude threat can be neutralized simply by denying it the attention that Mr. Putin craves.