Moscow (CNSNews.com) – As world leaders gather at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week, the annual General Assembly session is overshadowed by deteriorating relations between Russia and the West.
Neither President Dmitry Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will attend the opening session, and as was the case last year, Russia’s address will be delivered by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a former ambassador to the U.N.
Lavrov is widely expected to shrug off continuing Western criticism of Russian actions in Georgia and to dismiss demands for tougher United Nations sanctions against Iran.
Although Russia has supported previous Security Council sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium, it made it clear at the weekend that it rejected U.S. proposals for new measures.
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke of a “dark turn” in Russia’s policies, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates – in a speech that also called for the West to avoid military confrontation with Russia – accused Russia of “mauling and menacing small democracies.”
The Russian foreign ministry in response described Rice’s assertions as “wild distortion of facts” and warned Washington against speaking in the name of the whole world.
Some officials opted for a more reconciliatory tone, with Alexander Grushko, a deputy foreign minister, saying that Russia was not inclined to take an anti-American stance in response to the strong criticism, and wanted neither self-isolation nor a new Cold War.
Gen. Leonid Ivashov, head of Geopolicy Academy, a Moscow-based think tank, played down concerns that U.S. moves to limit security cooperation with Russia would damage Russian security.
Joint bilateral maneuvers and other military and security cooperation programs were in fact aimed against Russia, and in some cases served U.S. intelligence purposes, he argued.
In ongoing displays of its military capabilities, Russia test-fired one of its newest weapons, launching Bulava RSM-56 intercontinental ballistic missiles from a nuclear submarine in the White Sea north of Russia to hit a designated target at a military range in the Far East, more than 4,000 miles away.
The strategic multiple warhead missile, which carries a NATO designation SS-NX-30, is designed to overcome missile defenses.
It has been developed for use by new Borey-class strategic submarines, the first of which is now undergoing trials at sea.
Russia plans to build at least seven of the vessels over the next decade, each equipped with 16 Bulava ballistic missiles, capable of carrying up to 10 nuclear warheads each with a range of 5,000 miles.
Between September 22 and October 21, Russia is holding major strategic war-games, Stability 2008, which Air Force commander Gen. Alexander Zelin said would prepare air defense forces to counter a massive aerial attack.
The exercises, to be held in Russia and Belarus, involve strategic bombers and are aimed at countering potential threats near the Russian border, he said.
Also this week, Russia sent one of its largest warships for naval exercises off Venezuela in the Caribbean. A fleet led by the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) set sail from their Severomorsk Arctic base Monday.
As the mission is accompanied by Russian TV journalists, it appears to be intended just as much as a publicity stunt aimed at sending a message to the United States.
Yet despite the rhetoric and saber-rattling, Russian officials are dismissing speculation of a possible military confrontation with the U.S.
“Regarding the possibility of war between the United States and Russia, this possibility is ruled out,” said Alexander Yakovenko, another deputy foreign minister.
(CNSNew.com International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)