Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 139

But the Russian-Chinese arms sale notwithstanding, Moscow seems in general to have adopted measured tones in the runup to the Genoa summit. That posture was notable in remarks Vladimir Putin made to journalists on July 18, when teh Russian president said publicly that Moscow would forego any joint action with China to counter U.S. missile defense plans and hinted at a possible willingness by Moscow to compromise with the United States on the missile defense issue. That is not to say that Russian officials have entirely dispensed with rhetoric critical of the Bush administration’s missile defense efforts. There was a flurry of more hardline rhetoric in the immediate aftermath of the first Bush-Putin meeting, for example (see the Monitor, June 21), and the Russian Foreign Ministry also criticized in harsh terms the successful ballistic missile defense test conducted by the United States on July 14 (AP, Reuters, July 15). But bombastic denunciations by hardline Russian generals appear, for the time being at least, to be a thing of the past. Two of Russia’s most prolific military hardliners have recently lost their posts (see the Monitor, July 17), and in remarks reported yesterday former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev walked a careful line between criticism and conciliation. The one-time Strategic Rocket Forces commander warned that Moscow would consider any construction work on a U.S. missile defense test facility in Alaska to be a breach of the ABM Treaty while hinting in the same remarks that a Russian-U.S. compromise in this area might be possible (ORT, AP, AFP, July 19).

If a breakthrough of any sort on the missile defense issue is forthcoming, however, it was not evident in the wake of talks between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Rome on July 18. The two men had little to say about their discussions afterward, although Ivanov did repeat Russian complaints that Bush administration briefings about U.S. missile defense planning have been so vague as to preclude any meaningful discussion of them (New York Times, July 19; AP, Reuters, July 18). That situation will have to change in the weeks ahead if the negotiations are to make any progress, however. The Putin-Bush talks in Genoa are set to open a period of intense negotiations between both arms experts from the two countries and top governmental officials. And though the Russians are signaling a willingness to compromise, there is as yet nothing to indicate that they are willing to make concessions on a scale that will permit the Bush administration to proceed with its plan of stepping up U.S. missile defense testing and development. The U.S. side, moreover, is attempting to impart a sense of urgency to the negotiations, while the Russians seem likely to try to string the talks along. That suggests the road to an agreement will remain a rocky one, and that the Europeans could emerge in the role of referee–or Greek chorus.