Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised US President Barack Obama’s “brave” move to axe a planned missile shield in Europe as NATO’s chief called for a new strategic partnership with the Kremlin.
Russia had condemned the anti-missile radar facility being placed in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland under plans drawn up by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, threatening to deploy short-range missiles in NATO’s backyard.
Russia has now decided to freeze its move to put Iskander short range missiles in its Kaliningrad territory between Poland and Lithuania.
“The last decision by US President Barack Obama, which cancelled the plans to build missile defence facilities in Eastern Europe, brings us good thoughts,” Putin said in televised remarks.
“And I hope very much that this correct and brave decision will be followed by others,” he added.
Obama announced Thursday that he had decided to replace the shield with a more mobile system using mainly sea-based interceptors to target any attack with short and medium-range missiles, with Iran seen as the main threat.
Putin said Obama’s shift should be followed by other US measures to lift Soviet-era restrictions on the export of high technology to Russia and to help its WTO membership bid.
Ties between Moscow and the West have been slowly recovering since Obama took over at the White House, promising a “reset” in their relations.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, however, added that Russia would reject any “crude” compromise deal with the United States on missile deployments in response to the dropping of the planned defence shield.
“If our partners hear some of our worries, we will be equally attentive to theirs,” Medvedev said in an interview with Swiss media ahead of a state visit next week, the agencies reported.
“That means no compromises or primitive deals… We are grown up enough not to link one decision to another,” he said when questioned on any potential concessions in return for the shield plan being dropped.
In a sign of a growing thaw, NATO’s new secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the alliance would address Medvedev’s ideas on a new Euro-Atlantic security arrangement.
“I believe that a NATO-Russia dialogue could provide real added value. We must all aim for a Euro-Atlantic security architecture in which Russia sees herself reflected,” Rasmussen said in a keynote speech in Brussels.
The former Danish prime minister said it was in the interests of the alliance and Moscow to work together, and said the US, NATO and Russia should consider linking missile defence systems.
Studying how to tackle the proliferation of ballistic missile technology is in “NATO’s and Russia’s fundamental strategic interest,” he said.
“We should explore the potential for linking the US, NATO and Russia missile defence systems at an appropriate time,” he added.
Rasmussen said it was time for a joint review with Russia of the security challenges of the 21st century.
“I would like to see NATO and Russia agree to carry out a joint review of the new 21st century security challenges to serve as a firm basis for our future cooperation,” he said.
Moscow’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin called the address “very positive and very constructive”, but added that it needed careful scrutiny.
As Polish and Czech leaders insisted that ties with the United States would remain strong after the announcement, other European heads of state hoped it would lead to a warming of ties between Russia and the West.
Speaking late Thursday at an EU summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it “a sign of hope to get over difficulties with Russia”. French President Nicolas Sarkozy described it as “an excellent decision from every point of view.”
Czech and Polish dailies attacked the US decision however, accusing Obama of “treachery” and selling out to Moscow. “Obama bows to Kremlin, no radar on Czech soil,” read a headline in the right-leaning Czech daily Lidove Noviny.