Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 70

Of perhaps more importance, both Putin and Ivanov have also voiced very public criticism in recent days of provisions contained in the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. In his April 7 interview, Putin had much to say on the subject. He suggested that an evaluation of current U.S. nuclear policy is difficult, because any such assessment would have to be based on “isolated statements” made by “lesser-ranking officials.” That statement is a bit puzzling, given that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was reportedly provided with a detailed briefing of the Nuclear Posture Review during his March visit to Washington.

More significant, however, was Putin’s claim that descriptions of the U.S. policy review “do worry us.” He went on to criticize reported U.S. plans both to consider the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and to produce less powerful nuclear weapons for possible use in regional conflicts. Echoing critics of the Nuclear Policy Review in the United States and elsewhere, he said that these policies would “lower the threshold of the use of nuclear arms to a dangerously low level.” Indeed, by grouping alleged Russian concerns in this area with others related to a possible resumption of U.S. nuclear weapons testing and the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, Putin appeared to be indirectly criticizing the current thrust of U.S. strategic security policy more generally.

A commentary published this week by the Kremlin-backed website, moreover, returned to an earlier Russian theme when it claimed that the U.S. military leadership is planning to develop and use smaller, tactical nuclear warheads to improve the performance of its missile defense systems. The same piece also alleged that the United States plans to load smaller nuclear warheads on high precision weapons and to station these weapons along the borders of the so-called “rogue nations.” The purpose, the piece says, would be to increase the prospects both for intercepting missiles launched from the territory of these countries and for destroying possible targets located on their territory, such as underground bunkers and command points.

It is unclear what Moscow is hoping to accomplish by highlighting such issues while it also speaks optimistically of the chances for Russia and the United States to finalize a strategic arms reduction agreement in time for the May summit. As suggested above, the Kremlin may simply be seeking some diplomatic and negotiating advantages as the summit grows ever closer. A host of other problems continue to divide Moscow and Washington, however, and Russian leaders may simply be biding their time on the strategic arms issues while waiting to see how those other problems are addressed. Not the least of them is Russia’s effort to win a greater voice in NATO deliberations. Talks have been proceeding unevenly in that area as well, a fact that Putin appeared to allude to yesterday when he warned during remarks delivered in Germany that Russia could yet create some difficulties for the West if it was not given a role as “equal partner” in NATO and in other European and international structures. Those and other remarks by Russian leaders suggest that the Kremlin sees the coming weeks as a crucial period of time, and that it is presumably intent on at last winning some of the rewards that Russian leaders feel they are due for the support that Moscow proffered the West in the weeks and months that followed September 11 (AP, April 5, 7;, April 7-8; Interfax, April 8-9; Reuters, Gazeta, April 9).