Cold War Déjà Vu

US Russia Row Over Missile Defense Shield Stirs Up Old Cold War Controversies.

Russia this week tested a new ballistic missile. According to the Associated Press (AP), the recent test was Russia’s direct rebuttal to the recent U.S. attempt to install a missile defense shield in post Soviet Block countries of Poland and the Czech Republic. While the U.S. has continued to defend its actions, calling the shield a protective measure from “rogue” countries like Iran, or North Korea,  the close proximity has made Russia feel it is a direct threat to its military superiority in the region.

The U.S. had now made an official request to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in a military compound outside of Prague, according to the AP.

While many European’s believe this recent “defensive” measure will only exacerbate an arms race in the region, Czech Republic Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, has described the shield as part of a broader issue, of whether or not Europe has the willingness to defend itself.

“Europe can survive without a radar, but without a will to defend itself, this civilization is lost,” Topolanek said during talks on Tuesday May 29th with President Bush.

The newly tested ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) called the RS-24 is to take over from the aging RS-18s and RS-20s ICBM’s. According to Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, the RS-24 will be “capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems.”

In recent weeks the relationship between Russia and United States has deteriorated to the point of name-calling and accusations. Russian President Vladimir Putin even went to such lengths as calling U.S. President George Bush “Hitler,” and referring to the United States as the “Third Reich.”

Putin has also said in a news conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates that this is just the first step in an arms race that will turn the region into a “powder keg.”

The entire situation appears to be making the Russians very uneasy.

“We are still convinced that the only target of that shield would be not the purely hypothetical threat that might come from Iran or some other remote state, but the only real target will be our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dirty Peskov told the Associated Press.

There seems to be a feeling among some individuals of the Russian government that the actions taken by the U.S. are more than just a defensive measure, but rather a concerted effort to block Russia from reestablishing influence over the region once within its fold.

“(Our partners) are stuffing Eastern Europe with new weapons,” said Putin  during a press conference. “A new base in Bulgaria, another in Romania, a site in Poland, radar in the Czech Republic. What are we supposed to do? We cannot just observe all this,” he said.

On the surface, the reaction from the White House seems dismissive. BBC reported US secretary Condoleezza Rice as saying she felt “perplexed” by the recent row, calling Russia’s recent actions “from another era,” apparently referring to the Cold War.

In a speech made in the eastern German town of Potsdam, Rice stated “We want Russia to be strong, but strong in 21st century terms – not just with a strong center, but with strong, independent institutions,”

“Democratic institutions and an open society are not a source of weakness. Nor is freedom of speech and freedom of the press a nuisance.”

The State Department was not as reserved in its displeasure with Putin’s actions.  Thom Shanker reporting for the International Herald Tribune, quoted Pentagon sources describing the Kremlin as bullying its neighbors, silencing political opponents, and suppressing individual rights.

These accusations seem to come at an inopportune time for the administration, with several upcoming meetings planned between the American and Russian leaders in an attempt to forge stronger relations. Bush and Putin are scheduled to meet at the G-8 summit in Germany in early June, and also spend some time at Bush’s estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, attempting to rebuild a relationship that seemed so strong early on in the Bush presidency, but now shows signs of disillusionment and distrust.

The US-Russia issue also brings up the ever-present question of what is the real threat to the world’s safety. Is it the traditional idea of a megalomaniacal dictator with an axe to grind, and several nuclear missiles at his disposal?

Or has the real threat shifted to a world where devastation comes from a small package tucked underneath a seat of a commuter train in Madrid?

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