MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will robustly defend its interests abroad, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday in a speech that made clear he would not soften the assertive policies that irked the West under his predecessor.
Russia-watchers scrutinise statements from the Kremlin leader, who took office in May, for any indication of changes from his mentor and previous president Vladimir Putin.
Putin re-asserted Russia as a major power after a decade in which the country saw its Soviet-era influence sharply reduced. In the process, Putin irked the West by confronting it on issues from Kosovo to Iran.
Some observers predicted that 42-year-old former lawyer Medvedev would take a softer line.
But addressing a gathering of Russia’s top diplomats, he said he would stick to Putin’s doctrine of seeking a role for Russia on the world stage worthy of its resurgent power.
“Russia has become stronger and is capable of assuming greater responsibility for solving problems on both a regional and global scale,” Medvedev told a meeting with over 200 Russian ambassadors and senior foreign ministry officials.
Ex-KGB spy Putin, has stayed on as prime minister and continues to help shape policy.
“The world, which got rid of the Cold War, still cannot achieve a new balance,” Medvedev said in his, speech delivered in the foreign ministry’s Stalin-era building still decorated with the Soviet emblem.
“Moreover, a trend towards the use of force (in international relations) has become stronger.”
Medvedev said security arrangements established in Europe at the end of the Cold War could collapse if the United States continued to chip away at their foundations, notably by deploying elements of a missile shield in Eastern Europe.
Washington says the system aims to avert potential strikes from Iran but Moscow views it as a threat to its own security.
“This common heritage cannot survive if one of the sides selectively destroys isolated elements of the strategic construction. This does not satisfy us,” Medvedev said.
“Deployment of elements of the U.S. global anti-missile system in eastern Europe only makes the situation worse. We will need to react to this adequately,” he added.
Moscow, sensitive to any Western military advance towards its borders, also opposes U.S.-led moves to integrate ex-Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.
The West, in turn, has been alarmed by Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) pact, which limits the deployment of heavy armour from the Atlantic coast to the Ural’s mountains.
“The crisis situation over … the CFE treaty is also part of the problems with the European security architecture,” Medvedev said.
“We would not like to think that only its (the treaty’s) final collapse would prove to everyone that the existing control regime is ineffective and unfair.”
Medvedev has proposed a European security conference to draft new rules offering equal security to all European states and settling arms control issues.
He said on Tuesday narrow interests should not be allowed to bypass international law, citing as an example Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia earlier this year, which Russia said created a dangerous precedent.
But Medvedev also echoed Putin by saying he was not picking fights with the West and that it was important to defend Russia’s interests “without plunging into a confrontation.”