Warning that a new arms race could begin in the next decade, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called for an agreement between Moscow and the West on missile defense.
Medvedev's comments, part of his annual state-of-the-nation address to parliament on November 30, followed a NATO summit in which Russia and the trans-Atlantic alliance agreed to explore ways to cooperate on a missile shield for Europe.
"In this hall, I want to say openly that in the coming decade we face the following alternative: either we reach agreement on missile defense and create a fully-fledged joint cooperation mechanism or -- if we do not reach a constructive agreement -- a new round of the arms race will start." Medvedev added, "And we will have to make decisions about deploying new offensive weapons."
At NATO's summit in Lisbon on November 19-20, Medvedev stopped short of accepting NATO's invitation to join in the alliance's planned missile shield in full, insisting Russia must be an equal "partner." But he agreed to involve technicians in development plans while not ruling out deeper cooperation in the future.
A man watches President Dmitry Medvedev's address to parliament on Russian television sets at a shop in Moscow on November 30.
Russia staunchly opposed plans by former U.S. President George W. Bush to build a missile-defense system in Europe that would have placed key components in Poland and the Czech Republic.
President Barack Obama scrapped those plans in late 2009 in favor of a new U.S. system that would initially rely on sea-based interceptors and delay land deployments for a later date. NATO is now trying to turn the once-contentious missile-defense issue into a means for cooperation with Russia, expanding on Obama's efforts to reset relations with Moscow.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin added his own warning to Medvedev's statements, telling CNN in an interview taped on November 30 that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and "strike forces" if it was shut out of Western missile defense.
Putin said missile threats against Europe must be tackled jointly, but added that if Russia's proposals were constantly rejected and new threats appeared along its borders, "Russia will have to ensure its own security."Key Word: Cooperation
Medvedev stressed that Russia and "other interested countries" should cooperate to strengthen "the mechanisms to counter the proliferation of missile technology."
The comments come as Obama strugges to persuade the U.S. Senate to ratify the new START treaty, signed by the Russian and U.S. leaders in April in Prague.
The Russian president also called for enhanced cooperation with the United States and the European Union to advance his agenda of modernizing Russia's economy.
"The mechanisms of Russian-American partnership must be used to establish full-scale economic cooperation, improve the investment climate, and to cooperate in the high-technology sphere," Medvedev said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, listens to President Dmitry Medvedev's national address
Demographics And Debt
On domestic issues, Medvedev said improving the lives of children should be a top priority and proposed giving free land to families with three or more children.
Reflecting serious concerns about the demographic plunge that has plagued post-Soviet Russia, Medvedev proposed a series of measures to improve children's lives. Most notably, families who give birth to a third child would get a supplement of 3,000 rubles ($100) a month and be given free land to construct a residence or dacha.
Medvedev also said Russia needs to tackle its budget deficit and rising inflation if the country is to develop effectively. The president said he will seek to reduce the inflation rate, currently at 7.4 percent, to 4-5 percent over the next three years.
The president said Russia has "been able to stabilize the economy following a significant decline," adding that economic growth this year is predicted to be around 4 percent. He added, however, that "the situation with economy is still complex" and underlined that, despite financial tension, the government "will continue fulfilling [its] social obligations.
The Kremlin leader also addressed the issue of corruption, accusing law enforcement bodies of being linked to organized crime groups and calling for harsher penalties for bribery. Medvedev also said Russia's state procurement system needed to be reformed to curb graft.written by Brian Whitmore with agency reports