Peter Brookes

From the looks of it, the Kremlin hasn't bought into the whole "reset but- ton" gimmick the White House has put forward as a framework for the Obama administration's new Russia policy.

Despite the olive branch offered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at their first meeting in Geneva two weeks ago, Russia has its eyes on matters other than better relations with the United States.

And the Russians clearly don't care who's in power here.

For starters, this week Russia heralded a military buildup with President Dmitry Medvedev calling for "comprehensive rearmament" of the once-mighty Russian armed forces.

In televised remarks, Medvedev proclaimed the "most important task is to re-equip the [Russian] armed forces with the newest weapons systems." The modernization is underway, he noted and will pick up pace, despite the challenges to the country's coffers from falling oil and gas prices and other economic woes.

Russia's defense budget could jump 30 percent this year, boosting Moscow's military might and preserving one of Russia's most-prized business endeavors its arms-export industry, which services the likes of China, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. (Moscow appears to have admitted for the first time yesterday that it has signed a large contract to deliver advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran.)

Some say the defense budget bump is a result of the shortcomings Russian forces experienced last year when they invaded Georgia. But the Russian defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, reportedly said this week that the buildup is needed to thwart a possible US/NATO effort to grab the region's natural resources.

There's no such threat, of course but the Kremlin sees playing the nationalist card as a useful way to distract the public from those aforementioned economic woes.

Russia is also pumping itself up in an effort to quash the US missile-defense system (intended to guard against Iranian launches) proposed for Eastern Europe and to deter possible NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia.

It's also looking to project its power far from its neighborhood. A top Russian Air Force general this week claimed that Venezuela could host Russian long-range bombers, based on an offer from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. (He also mentioned Cuba as a possible base.)


Peter Brookes

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
 
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