It is increasingly likely that our new President will get to count on an old foe to provided some of his most important and difficult early foreign policy challenges. The Putin/Medvedev team appears to be practicing Chicago-style politics on an international scale, so perhaps President-elect Obama will have a leg up on them.
Apparently, the latest irritant in Russia's eye is our land-based missile defense system, with interceptors planned for Poland and a radar system for the Czech Republic. Mr. Medvedev announced earlier this week that Russia would station short range ballistic missiles on the Russian border with Poland, presumably in a strategy to overwhelm any realistic ballistic missile defense. "New Europe"--that is, nations formerly under the Soviet boot--appear comfortable with missile defenses, less comfortable with Mr. Putin, and much more likely to see the US as a force for stability and power. "Old Europe" appears to see no threat from Russia and wishes only to receive a continuous flow of oil and gas from the resource rich kleptocracy.
President-elect Obama will have to walk a judicious line here. No fan of missile defense (though I believe he always qualified it as "unproven missile defense" leaving open the possibility of support for proven systems), Mr. Obama runs the risk of alienating a whole new group of European nations for whom he has to do little or no work to repair the US reputation. Leaders in Poland and the Czech Republic spent a lot of political capital to support the US, and walking away from these systems would send a terrible signal to these allies.