Days before a bilateral meeting between President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Thursday in Deauville, France at the Group of Eight meeting, the Russian leader is talking about a return to the Cold War with regards to the U.S. plans for a missile defense program.
"Let us agree now what kind of a system it will be," Medvedev said at an international legal forum in St. Petersburg, the Moscow Times reported Monday. "And if we do not agree, what we will get is Europe in the early 1980s. I don't want to live in that Europe, and I hope you don't either."
Since taking office, Obama has talked about a "reset" of the chilled relationship between the United States and Russia.
While the two countries signed a major nuclear missile reduction agreement in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the two countries are debating what that treaty means for the U.S. missile defense goals. The meeting also happens as former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced he is running again for the presidency.
Obama scrapped plans from the Bush administration to locate a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, though he wants to continue plans for a missile defense program in Eastern Europe aimed at defending U.S. allies from a potential attack from Iran.
"The Russians clearly see any improvement at all in the U.S. missile defense capabilities as a potential threat to the balance of power between Moscow and Washington," Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, told CNSNews.com.
"The president sold the new START to Congress by assuring everyone that there is no relation between cessation of missile defense work and strategic reductions," Berman continued. "The Russians at the same time have been saying the opposite. They see arms control and limitations on missile defense as being completely intertwined, and if America wants to continue with the reset, it has to cut out all work on missile defense."
The United States is also pushing to get a place for Russia in the World Trade Organization.
"In Washington, you can see it pretty clearly, President Obama is trying to inject a new tone in dealing with Russia. The only problem is that it takes two to tango," Berman said. "In order for Russia to become a serious partner in the world economy, a number of substantial things have to happen in terms of the elimination of corruption, altering Russian business practices etc."
Obama will arrive in France for the G8 meeting as part of a six-day tour through Europe. He arrived in Ireland on Monday then was scheduled to spend Tuesday and Wednesday in Great Britain. While in France, he will also have a bilateral meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The G8 is made up of France, Germany, Italy, Britain, the United States, Japan, Canada and Russia.
While it is likely in the best interest of the United States to keep Medvedev rather than a return to Putin, Berman said Obama must show caution. Putin represents the "triumvirate of intelligence and business and organized crime that rules Russia," Berman said.
"The smart money of course is on Putin. But, Obama has to tread very carefully," Berman said. "If he is seen to be supporting Medvedev to the detriment of Putin, the reset could take a sour note in a hurry."
Obama's final stop will be in Warsaw on Friday. That evening Polish President Bronislaw Komorwski will host a dinner for the heads of state of Central and Eastern Europe along with Obama.
Then, on Saturday, Obama will have a bilateral meeting with Komorowski, and later a working lunch with Polish Prime Minister Donald Franciszek Tusk. Obama and Tusk will then hold a joint press conference.
"The Polish government was very clear that they felt like they were being left out in the cold when we pulled our support for missile defense," Berman said. "They see themselves as being engaged in an ideological contest with the Russians. So President Bush's idea for a missile defense system that involves Poland was really an affirmation that Poland belonged to the West and not the East.
"Everything since then has been a walk backward from that. So, the reason the president is going to Poland is to reiterate that America still cares. Whether that is seen as an authentic message in Poland is a different story," he added.