Russia defies West with new arms spending

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, yesterday vowed to defy Western attempts to isolate Moscow as he gave his backing to an ambitious re-armament programme.

Both Mr Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, resorted to the language of the Cold War as they pledged to increase defence spending by 50 per cent over the next three years.

But they also sought to portray Russia as the victim of Nato aggression.

As his parliament gave its support to the higher defence budget, Mr Medvedev accused the United States and its allies of seeking to isolate Russia behind “thick walls and an iron curtain.”

The West’s attempts to punish and pressure Russia for its invasion of Georgia last month would not deter the Kremlin from seeking to reassert the country’s military might on the global stage, he warned.

Although his deputy foreign minister said that the possibility of war with the United States had been “ruled out”, the president hinted that an aggressive Western response over the crisis in the Caucasus could prompt Russia to accelerate the re-armament process.

“We will continuously strengthen our national security, modernize the military and increase our defence capability to a sufficient level,” Mr Medvedev said. “And we will determine what level is sufficient proceeding from the current situation.”

The president was speaking as Nato ministers met in London to map out a response to what they called Russia’s “aggression” in the Caucasus.

The West has been divided over whether or not to punish Russia, with Britain, the United States, Sweden and some eastern European countries taking a much tougher line than the rest of Western Europe.

In a speech on Thursday, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, warned that Russia had placed itself on a “one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.”

Those comments appeared to enrage Mr Medvedev, making him even more assertive in defending Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

For the first time he accused Nato of provoking the conflict, in a tacit admission that the war was not just about supporting separatist rebels in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.

In April, Nato promised that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually be placed on the path to membership of the alliance, a move bitterly opposed by Moscow which regards former Soviet nations as part of its sphere of influence.

Its confidence restored by a booming economy built on energy, Russia feels that it can regain some of its Soviet-era military power, a position emphasised by the large rise in defence spending.

The defence budget will rise by 25 per cent alone next year and by close to 50 percent in 2011, when it will stand at close to £32 billion.

Analysts say that if increases continue at the same rate, Russia will overtake Britain as the world’s second biggest military spender by the middle of the next decade.

Speaking in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr Putin also accused the West of trying to revive the Cold War.

“We see any attempts to throw us back to the time of the Cold War as a direct threat to our modernisation project,” he told investors.

By Adrian Blomfield in Moscow
Last Updated: 8:38AM BST 20 Sep 2008

Source: The Telegraph

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