Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 51

This retuned Russian position on missile defense was perhaps reflected most fully in remarks which Colonel General Leonid Ivashov and Yury Kapralov, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Security Affairs and Disarmament Department, made on March 12. Ivashov, a notorious hawk and inveterate saber-rattler who heads the Defense Ministry’s foreign liaisons department, was uncharacteristically measured in responding to reporters. He did, like Ivanov, dismiss the renaming of the U.S. missile defense effort, and suggested that U.S. plans would still have a destabilizing effect on existing international arms control treaties. He also flatly rejected the notion either that Europe currently faces the threat of a missile attack or that the Russian plan for a European theater missile defense system reflects an acknowledgment of that threat. On the last point, Ivashov observed instead that the Russian proposal puts primary emphasis both on the need for all parties concerned–NATO, European governments and Russia–initially to study whether Europe really might face a short- or long-term missile threat, and then to turn first to political methods and diplomacy in the event that such a threat arises or is identified.

Ivashov also charged that the United States would be in violation of the ABM Treaty even if it simply began pouring the concrete foundations for missile launch pads in Alaska. And he suggested that Moscow is still prepared to take so-called “asymmetrical measures” in the event that the United States does proceed with the deployment of a missile defense system. But Ivashov’s emphasis remained on diplomacy rather than saber rattling. He told reporters that even if the United States did violate the ABM treaty Moscow would not immediately move to do likewise: “Russia will not precipitate the collapse of ABM. We will consult with European and other states and try to stop the process even after the United States clearly begins to deploy the system.” While Ivashov’s remarks probably reflect Moscow’s need to make a virtue out of necessity–Russia would in any case be hard pressed financially to mount any immediate response to the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system–they also exhibit a rhetorical spirit of consultation which is likely to be popular in Europe. This same emphasis on the importance of diplomacy also underlies the EU’s efforts to get Russia and the United States back at the strategic arms bargaining table.

Kapralov, not surprisingly, also adopted a posture which combined a firm rejection of U.S. missile defense plans with an expression of Russia’s readiness to resume talks on strategic matters. He told reporters on March 12 that the West was deluding itself if it thought Russia’s European missile defense proposal reflected an acknowledgment that the so-called rogue states now pose a missile threat to the West. “I tell you, this absolutely does not correspond to our view…. It is wishful thinking.” But Kapralov also spoke of Moscow’s understanding that the Bush administration might need time to work out its positions on key arms control issues, and said that Russia is prepared to begin new talks on cutting strategic arms at a moment’s notice. Kapralov suggested that negotiations on a START-III might proceed quite quickly.

Interestingly, both Kapralov and Ivashov also went out of their way to suggest that Russia’s missile defense proposal–the one handed to Robertson–has applicability which goes well beyond the circumstances Russia and NATO discussed. Neither provided any specifics as to what Moscow has in mind. But Kapralov suggested that Russia was willing to work in this area with individual European countries, presumably outside of NATO or EU structures, and that Moscow considered also considered its theater missile defense proposal to be a “pilot project which, with this or that modification, could be considered for use in other regions.” Ivashov, in turn, appeared to emphasize the possibility that Russia’s “eastern neighbors” might be interested in cooperating with Russia on missile defense. He too named no particular countries, but, given recent broader Russian security and foreign policy efforts, presumably intended to suggest that Russian partners in an endeavor of this sort might include Beijing, New Delhi or even Tehran or Pyongyang. Ivashov’s remarks also suggested at least the possibility that Moscow may be brandishing a threat to pursue, with allies of its own, a theater missile defense system in Asia which would be a response to one which the United States is considering building with Japan (Reuters, AFP, AP,, Russian agencies, March 12).

Whether Russia is capable of carrying out such a policy is another question entirely. But Moscow’s intentions in this area could emerge a bit more clearly during talks scheduled to take place in Washington this week between Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov and both U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Ivanov’s last foray into defense diplomacy was less than successful; his Cold War-style condemnations of U.S. missile defense plans during the February 3-4 Munich conference did little to help Moscow’s cause and may be one reason why the Kremlin seems lately to have chosen a more even-toned approach to the issue. Ivanov is a close advisor to Putin, one who is seen by some as the second most powerful man in the Kremlin, and as Security Council secretary appears to have acquired a considerable amount of influence over Russian defense and foreign policy issues.