Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 166

This week’s Russian-U.S. arms control talks failed despite what some reports suggested was a desire by both sides to reach an agreement before President Clinton meets this weekend in New Zealand with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two men, who will be attending the APEC summit in Auckland along with their respective foreign ministers, are expected to discuss a wide array of issues. For whatever it is worth, Yeltsin reportedly told Clinton during their telephone conversation on Wednesday night that Putin was fully empowered to represent Russia at the APEC summit (Itar-Tass, September 9).

The two sides will get another opportunity to air their differences on arms control issues during a scheduled visit to Moscow on September 13 by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. According to Pentagon sources, talks between Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev will also cover Russian-U.S. military cooperation (Reuters, September 9).

It is unclear how far the two sides will get on that issue. Moscow broke off its military contacts with NATO and key NATO countries following the start of the alliance’s air war against Yugoslavia. Although there has been the occasional hint that the Russian government is now prepared to resume some of those former ties (during a visit by the Russian Foreign Minister to Britain in late July, for example), Russian Defense Ministry sources have tended to insist that military ties will be limited to those involving the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. The meeting between Cohen and Sergeev will be their first since the two convened in Helsinki in June for talks which set the ground rules for Russia’s participation in the Kosovo peacekeeping force. Russian complaints about how that mission has proceeded will undoubtedly also be on next week’s discussion agenda.

This week’s arms control talks, meanwhile, came as the Clinton administration announced some details of how it intends to proceed in negotiations on the ABM treaty and in the development of a limited U.S. missile defense system. The Kremlin was perhaps heartened somewhat by the news that–after considerable internal discussion–the administration will resist Republican calls for a large-scale rewriting of the ABM treaty and will instead ask Moscow for relatively modest changes in the document. According to administration officials, the first set of changes that Washington will seek is aimed at permitting the United States to place 100 interceptor missiles in Alaska. Over time, and as the missile threat to the United States is perceived to grow and U.S. technologies improve, Washington will seek further amendments to the treaty allowing it to deploy more than 200 interceptors, as well as an additional launching site, advances in radar and the use of space-based sensors (Washington Post, September 8).

For its part, Moscow came up with a retaliatory threat of its own this week, though the country’s dire financial situation raises questions about its credibility. In remarks to reporters on September 8, the chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Defense Committee warned that U.S. deployment of a missile defense system could lead Moscow to develop a new type of strategic nuclear missile designed to thwart it. “Russia has the technologies and possibilities to launch production of missiles of a new class with detachable warheads,” Roman Popkovich said. He provided few details, but suggested that the new missile would be far more effective at evading U.S. missile defense systems than is the current strategic missile under production in Russia–the Topol-M (Reuters, Russian agencies, September 8).