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Gremlins in Kremlin's arms surge

A conventional and nuclear buildup will end up hurting Russia's economy.

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Russia's president is spitting missiles. This week, Dmitry Medvedev said he would make it a priority to upgrade the country's nuclear arsenal. He also wants a "large-scale rearmament" of the Army and Navy beginning in 2011. The Kremlin may be calculating that a stepped-up military is in Moscow's interest. It's not.

First, a caveat. Mr. Medvedev's tough talk on Tuesday could be nothing more than a mild-mannered lawyer trying to appear tough to suspicious generals (who were his immediate audience) and to newcomer Barack Obama, whom Medvedev will meet for the first time in early April.

Indeed, the Russian president gave few details in his speech, and the White House played down the promised buildup – which Moscow says is necessary to thwart terrorism, regional conflicts, NATO encroachment, and US petroleum aspirations in former Soviet republics. The speech is "largely for domestic consumption," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Maybe so, maybe so. But the West has a record of misreading Russian intentions: It underestimated former President Vladimir Putin – still hugely influential as prime minister – and his authoritarian streak at home and abroad.

The West be would be wise at least to consider Medvedev's comments at face value. But wiser still, would be for Russia to do so. Follow-through on rearmament, nuclear and otherwise, would work against Russia's economic and strategic interests.

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