Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 12

Russian and U.S. negotiators, meeting for two days of talks in Washington this week, have apparently failed to narrow their differences on a series of issues related to strategic arms reductions. Officials participating in the talks revealed few details, but made clear that the two sides remain deadlocked over two issues in particular: Bush administration plans to store an indeterminate number of nuclear warheads rather than destroy them under a reductions plan agreed upon late last year by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, and Washington’s continuing disinclination to codify the proposed strategic arms reductions in a major new arms treaty. Despite the differences, however, U.S. officials made it clear this week their belief that agreements setting out the conditions under which Russia and the United States will slash their nuclear arsenals should be ready for signing in time for the next planned Russian-U.S. summit meeting, which is scheduled for May or June in Russia.

This week’s arms talks were especially significant because they followed a series of developments that have to some extent altered the political landscape in which the negotiations are taking place. Those developments include the Bush administration’s announcement on December 13 that the United States plans to withdraw in six months time from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In addition, Washington indicated later in December that it may be considering a resumption of nuclear weapons testing, and then said publicly on January 8 that it will not destroy all the nuclear warheads planned for decommissioning under the earlier Putin-Bush agreement, but will place an indeterminate number of them in storage. All of these moves, moreover, came amid a broader shift in Russian-U.S. relations conditioned by the apparent U.S. military victory in Afghanistan. If earlier the Bush administration had, at least in its public statements, adopted accommodating positions toward Moscow on a host of arms control and other international security issues, the apparent sense that Russia’s help is no longer so urgently needed in the antiterror war has freed Washington to take a harder line on many of these same issues. Gone is the sense of euphoria expressed in many quarters that Moscow’s enlistment in the U.S. antiterror war might open an historic new era of Russian-U.S. cooperation and friendship.

How Moscow will react to these new realities remains unclear. The Kremlin ensured that Moscow’s response to the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was a muted one, but Russian officials have bristled over the announcement that the United States plans to store some of the nuclear warheads set for decommissioning. Indeed, in the run up to this week’s talks, Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, the General Staff first deputy chief who headed the Russian delegation, insisted that the destruction of all decommissioned weapons is a priority for Russian negotiators.