The Bush administration is repeating its disappointment with Russia's stated intention to deploy missiles near Poland if the United States goes ahead with a planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. As VOA's Michael Bowman reports, the back-and-forth between Moscow and Washington has sparked questions about whether Russia is asserting itself to send a tough message to President-elect Barack Obama.
Russia has long objected to U.S. plans to base a missile defense system in Eastern European nations that once formed part of the Soviet bloc. Wednesday, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said Russia will deploy short-range missiles near Poland to combat what he termed "the relentless expansion of NATO" and the testing of Russian strength.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says the move is regrettable and unnecessary.
"We have long said that the missile defense program is not aimed at Russia, and the sites in the Czech Republic and Poland pose no threat to Russia from our perspective," she said. "We have tried to work with the Russians to explain that to them. We have offered to work with their teams on the technology pieces. We find the [Russian] action yesterday disappointing."
The comments mirror similar statements from both the State Department and the Pentagon.
The United States insists the missile shield is defensive in nature, designed to intercept ballistic missiles that could be fired from the Middle East. Russia remains incredulous, however, saying the system could neutralize Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Mr. Medvedev said Russia will deploy Iskander missiles to its western enclave of Kaliningrad, a slice of territory that sits between Poland and Lithuania. The Iskander's normal range would allow it to strike within Poland, but not the Czech Republic. Unless modified, the missiles carry conventional warheads.
The Kremlin says Mr. Medvedev has congratulated U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, and that the Russian leader wants to maintain a constructive dialogue with the United States on the basis of trust.
At the White House, spokeswoman Perino was asked if the timing of Mr. Medvedev's missile announcement - one day after the Obama electoral victory - should be seen as a Russian attempt to intimidate America's president-elect or to improve Russia's bargaining position with the next U.S. administration.
"One thing I cannot do is divine [guess] what the Russians are thinking," she said. "Our reaction to the [Medvedev] statement yesterday is that it was disappointing."
In addition to discussing the missile issue, Mr. Medvedev said Russia has no intention to "retreat" from the Caucuses - a region that was once part of the Soviet Union and in recent years has seen several areas try to gain independence from Moscow.