Vice-President Joe Biden spoke at an international security conference in Munich.
The Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ivanov, had proposed that Russia would refrain from putting missiles on the Polish border (because Poland is now a member of NATO) in return for an American review of our missile defense program.
Those with long memories will recall that program as the Reagan Administration's "Star Wars." The Soviet Union objected not only to the prospect of losing its leverage to peacefully launch nuclear missiles at the West, but also to the enormous strain developing its own Star Wars would put on its economy. Apparently portions of our missile defenses are now available as operational systems sufficient to protect Poland from Russian missiles, if put in place.
Biden clearly rejected the proposed rapprochement with Russia. The United States will continue to side with Georgia and deny the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia claims are not part of Georgia (and thus Russian satellites), and continue to press the expansion of NATO (i.e. furthering the encirclement of Russia by Western allies.)
The Times reporter, perhaps on briefing from officials, wrote that the American hard line was in response to Russia bribing the Kyrgyzstan government to close our airbase there. The Russian plan was apparently to make a major attack on American interests and to hope that by acting like nothing had happened, to suffer no consequences.
Notably, the European governments represented at the conference were not conciliatory to the Russians either. Apparently the recent Russian stunt (it is hard to think what else to call it) of turning off natural gas supplies to Europe in mid-winter to vent its displeasure with the Ukraine, did not win hearts and minds there.
Antagonizing the new administration in the United States shortly after having antagonized Europeans does not speak well of the judgment of the Russian government.
One wonders if there is any significance to the American representative having been the Vice-President rather than the Secretary of State. Ordinarily the Vice-President's remarks would be vetted by the State Department, he being the layman and they the experts. That is scarcely the situation now.
One wonders if the reason was that State's failure to prevent the closure of the Kyrgyzstan airbase has put the Secretary into eclipse. One can hope.