During a full day of talks in Moscow this week, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping got an earful of criticism and concerns from Russian officials on the subject of Western security policies. Scharping’s official visit included talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, State Duma Defense Committee chairman Andrei Nikolaev, and the increasingly influential secretary of the Russian Security Council, Sergei Ivanov. On the positive side, Russian officials suggested that Scharping’s visit would further boost bilateral cooperation between Germany’s and Russia’s defense establishments. But two considerably more divisive issues appeared to dominate Scharping’s stay in Moscow: U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defense (NMD) system and NATO intentions to expand further to the east. Moscow’s airing of its grievances on these two issues was not unexpected, but comes nevertheless at an important time. This weekend, newly named U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to attend a security conference in Munich at which the Europeans are likely to voice their own concerns about the Bush administration’s missile defense plans.
Indeed, some of the remarks Scharping and his Russian interlocutors made this week suggested anew both how problematic the U.S. NMD plans could prove to be for the Western alliance in the coming months, and how eager Moscow is to exploit these differences for its own diplomatic gain. The cavalcade of Russian criticism of NMD began with Colonel-General Valery Manilov, first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff. In remarks Defense Minister Igor Sergeev later echoed, Manilov was quoted as saying that the U.S. missile defense system was “liable to destroy the balance of strategic, defensive and offensive weapons and lead to a new arms race.” Manilov pushed instead for a Russian alternative which President Vladimir Putin first voiced last year. It calls for the European Union and NATO to cooperate with Russia in the development of a Russian theater missile defense system. “This would mean not destroying the old [ABM] system but creating a new one, based on eliminating the new threats through a nonstrategic antimissile system in the areas of military activity where the threats are located,” Manilov was quoted as saying.
Scharping’s remarks in Moscow reflected Berlin’s concerns over NMD. The German minister warned Washington against letting NMD endanger the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He appeared also to caution against the notion that negotiations in this area are the province of Washington and Moscow alone, telling reporters that Germany and Europe had helped to build the existing international security system. He suggested that Europe must be included in any negotiations regarding NMD and the ABM treaty when he told reporters that “Americans, Russia and Europe must… look at risks and threats [posed by rogue] states with access to weapons of mass destruction… and try to resolve the problems together.” He called on the Bush administration to conduct “intensive negotiations both within NATO and with Russia” to work out differences over arms control. Perhaps to soften his comments, Scharping also suggested that there is currently not enough evidence to show that the U.S. NMD project is a secure, viable system, and that it is therefore “senseless [now] to talk about goals which remain only goals and cannot be implemented.”
While Moscow and Berlin seemed to find some common ground on the question of missile defense, it was less clear whether they had in any way had a meeting of the minds on the equally divisive issue of NATO enlargement. Some of the harshest Russian criticism of the alliance’s expansion plans came from Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov. He warned that the alliance’s enlargement could “create a fundamentally new situation in Europe which objectively infringes on Russia’s political and military interests.” This, Ivanov said, “could lead to a serious crisis.” News sources, meanwhile, had little to say about Scharping’s response to Russian warnings in this area. As was the case with missile defense, however, Scharping did appear to suggest that the problem was not an immediate one because the alliance’s expansion is a long-term project. Enlargement “will not happen in any near future as some might be expecting,” he told reporters (UPI, AFP, AP, January 30; Reuters, Russian agencies, January 30-31).
IS PUTIN PREPARING TO AX HIS CABINET AND CHIEF OF STAFF?