By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford
It feels like a blast from the past: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatening to station short-range missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland.
Medvedev is miffed that the West is not taking Russia's concerns into consideration as it proceeds with plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe that the United States and NATO insist is to protect from potential missile attack from Iran.
They even say they want Russia to work with them on the system but, in a live television broadcast, Medvedev told Russians: "We will not agree to take part in a program that, in a short while, in some six to eight years' time, could weaken our nuclear deterrent capability."
Russia, the president announced somberly, could deploy weapons "ensuring our ability to take out any part of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe. One step in this process will be to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad Region."
And he went a step further, threatening to pull out of the New START arms control agreement, which he and President Barack Obama signed with such fanfare just a year and a half ago.
Medvedev's comments drew a sigh of frustration from the White House, the State Department and NATO.
"We've been clear, all along, for many years now, that this system is NOT directed against Russia," Mark Toner, State Department Deputy spokesman insisted.
The National Security Council's spokesman, Tommy Vietor, issued a statement saying "Implementation of the New START Treaty is going well and we see no basis for threats to withdraw from it."
NATO's secretary general bemoaned the Russian president's announcement, calling it "deeply disappointing" and referring to "old suspicions."
Medvedev wants a legal guarantee from the Obama administration that the system is not aimed at Russia but the Obama administration has made it clear that won't fly. Even it Obama took that step, the Senate would be unlikely to ratify it. So the administration says the Russian president's threat won't succeed in forcing Washington to change its plans to deploy the missile defense program.
Medvedev still calls Barack Obama a "partner" but his tough words throw that partnership - and the administration's famous "reset" with Russia - into doubt. It also comes at a time when Obama has never needed Russia's help more, on challenges including Iran, Syria, North Korea and Afghanistan.
So why is Medvedev rocking the boat now? Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and arms control expert, points to politics - in Russia.
"I think you have to look at the context," he says. "It seems to me this is not aimed at NATO, this is aimed at the Russian domestic audience with a view to the parliamentary elections there in seven days time. Just as in America beating up on Russia is always good in politics, in Russia taking a hard line against the U.S. and NATO always plays very well with the electorate."
Moscow, Pifer thinks, would never consider actually pulling out of the New START agreement. It's important to them, he says, because they are retiring a lot of old missiles and START "is their vehicle to ensure that U.S. forces come down at the same time."
Ironically, if Russia could get beyond the demand for a legal guarantee on the missile defense system, "there is a fairly open path to NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation" which could give Russia a voice in how to shape the architecture of missile defense, Pifer says.
Medvedev is in the last months of his presidency. In March of next year Russians will go to the polls to elect a new president, and the leading candidate is Vladimir Putin, known for taking a harder line than Medvedev.
Could this mean even more trouble for the "reset?"
Pifer says, "I think you'll get the same strategic line from the Russians, though Putin is perhaps a bit more suspicious...more skeptical about U.S. intentions then Medvedev is, so there will be perhaps that change in tone."
The reset may not be over but it could be headed for some stormy weather.