Russia's Medvedev's Tough Guy Act

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev gestures during a welcoming ceremony at the government palace in Lima, Peru, Nov. 24, 2008. AP Photo/Martin Mejia

This story was written by CBS News reporter Alexsei Kuznetsov in Moscow.
Appearances can be deceiving. Six months ago, when Dmitry Medvedev was inaugurated as Russia's new president, many hoped there would be a thaw in U.S.-Russia relations.

The soft-spoken lawyer has never worked for the KGB. His reputation as a liberal seemed to contrast sharply with his predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

However, for the past six months it seems that President Medvedev has been working hard to dismantle his liberal image and revive memories of the Cold War.

Putin had a reputation for being tough, but it was under Medvedev that Russia used excessive force against Georgia, occupying part of its territory and crushing its military. Medvedev then defied world opinion by accusing the United States of instigating the war and by recognizing the independence of Georgia's two separatist regions.

The Cold War rhetoric continued with the Kremlin blaming the United States for the global financial crisis.

"Russia has warned many times of the potentially negative situation that had built up in the American financial system, and that has now transformed into a full-scale international financial crisis," Medvedev said.

Moscow has pursued close ties with countries like Venezuela and has even sent warships to the Caribbean for joint naval exercises.

The latest from President Medvedev is a threat to deploy missiles on the border with Poland as a response to the U.S. missile-defense program in eastern Europe. It is the first time in decades that Russia's leader has officially announced his readiness to target a NATO country with tactical weapons.

"The Iskander missile system will be deployed in the Kaliningrad region in order to neutralize, if necessary, the missile defense system," he said.

Medvedev's ultimatum was widely acclaimed, not only behind Kremlin walls, but also in the streets. Many Russians see this as an opportunity for the country to expand its military influence over Europe.

"It gives Russia a perfect pretext to deploy its missiles in Kaliningrad, so that we could blanket Europe if need be," said one Russian.

Russia's parliament also fully supports the president on this issue.

"You need two to dance a tango," said Konstantin Kosachyov, Chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the Russian Parliament. "And in case the other side continues to be assertive - we have no space to be more liberal, more cooperative. We have to protect our national interests."

Iskander missiles have a declared range of only 175 miles, but Russian top brass insist that the range could be extended in order to strike the proposed radar installation in the Czech Republic.

Medvedev's message was delivered just hours after Barack Obama was elected - an unmistakable signal to the incoming U.S. administration.

The two leaders are certain to discuss the possibility of a new arms race when they have their first meeting. Whether or not Obama decides to go ahead with missile defense in Europe, the outcome of the summit will set the tone for the next chapter in U.S.-Russian relations.
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