Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 109

Amid high-profile talks between Russia and India in Moscow, and in the runup to a series of even more weighty summit meetings that are to take place in the days ahead between Russian President Vladimir Putin and both U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Russia’s political leadership moved yesterday to further toughen its rhetoric on the subject of U.S. missile defense plans and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Voiced by senior officials from the Defense and the Foreign Ministries, and directed not only at U.S. national missile defense plans but also at a possible U.S.-Japanese theater missile defense system in Northeast Asia, yesterday’s warnings from Moscow appeared to be aimed at accomplishing two goals. The more obvious of the two is an apparent Russian effort to publicly firm up its bargaining position with respect to missile defense and the ABM treaty on the eve of an initial round of high-level contacts with the Bush administration (see the Monitor, May 31). The second and not so obvious goal involves a Russian move to shore up its so-called “strategic partnership” with China. The recent warming in Russian-U.S. relations, and Moscow’s embrace of arms control talks with Washington, has likely caused some concern in China that the Kremlin may be leaning away from Beijing. Yesterday’s Russian statements appeared to represent a reminder to Washington–and a note of assurance to China–that this is not the case.

The Kremlin’s message regarding Washington’s national missile defense plans was conveyed by Russia’s recently named defense minister–and a close advisor to Putin–Sergei Ivanov. The timing of Ivanov’s remarks was significant in another way as well: It came during a visit to Moscow by Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton. Like many of Washington’s European allies, the Canadians have also expressed some unease about U.S. missile defense plans, and Ivanov’s message was presumably aimed at highlighting anew this possible point of divergence between Washington and its key NATO allies.

In substantive terms, Ivanov’s remarks yesterday contained nothing new, but their tone did hearken back to the sort of hardline rhetoric heard in Moscow until a few months ago, when the Kremlin plainly adopted a policy of moderating official Russian criticism of U.S. missile defense plans. The essence of Ivanov’s remarks was that a U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty could torpedo the entire system of strategic arms control agreements, and that it could thereby both undermine international security and trigger a new strategic arms race. “If we assume that the ABM Treaty loses force, it’s logical to assume that the subsequent treaties based on it will also lose force,” Ivanov told reporters following his talks with Eggleton. “That means we will enter a phase of total unpredictability in the sphere of global security,” he added.

Ivanov also highlighted another recent development that the Kremlin doubtless views as a diplomatic victory of sorts: that fact that, in Ivanov’s words, the United States is no longer “taking unilateral measures on missile defense, but [is] consulting with Russia and its other partners.” Ivanov followed that, moreover, with a statement sure to cause some irritation with Washington. He suggested that these consultations on the question of missile defense and the ABM treaty “will continue not only between Russia and the United States, but also between Russia and NATO, and between Russia and China” (AP, AFP, Russian agencies, June 5).

A number of top European officials have made it clear since the beginning of this year that the European Union would not negotiate questions related to missile defense directly with Russia and independent of the United States, but Moscow has for obvious reasons done its utmost to keep the issue on the table in meetings between Russia and EU leaders. Even more important, perhaps, was Ivanov’s talk of ongoing Russian-Chinese consultations on these same strategic issues, a policy that could undermine Washington’s own effort to shut China out of this international dialogue. More broadly, Ivanov’s remarks encapsulated what appears to be an emerging goal of Russian diplomacy: to exploit widespread uneasiness with U.S. missile defense plans both to internationalize the issue to the greatest degree possible and, potentially, to create thereby for Russia a go-between or mediating role between the United States and Europe and between the United States and China and India.

The Asian dimension of this strategy was highlighted indirectly in remarks by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov that were published by the Defense Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (“Red Star”) on June 5. Losyukov, who oversees Asian affairs within the Foreign Ministry, warned that the creation by the United States of a national missile defense system, together with the deployment of a narrower theater defense system in Northeast Asia, could seriously upset the balance of forces in Asia–with unforeseen consequences. Among other things, he said, such a development could accent the military dimension across Asia and thereby promote a new arms race. He suggested that a parallel U.S. policy–one whereby Washington seeks to strengthen its military ties with such allies as Japan, South Korea and Australia–could contribute further to a destabilization of the region. He also warned ominously that this de-facto effort to isolate China could drive other powers in the region, Russia and India first and foremost, into a sort of “anti-American coalition” (Russian agencies, June 5).

Moscow’s ability to deliver on warnings of this type remains highly questionable. Already, for example, long-time Russian ally India is engaged in a deep internal strategic debate over the implications of its improving ties with the United States, and how its partial embrace of U.S. missile defense plans will effect its position in the region with regard to both Russia and China. The emergence of an anti-American Russian-Chinese-Indian coalition under these circumstances looks very doubtful. Indeed, Russian-Indian ties could be further tested as a result of a Chinese-Russian friendship treaty that is to be finalized this summer. But the Russian statements made yesterday do nonetheless suggest that Moscow will proceed slowly and cautiously in responding to the Bush administration’s recent overtures, and that it will do its utmost to maintain and even bolster newly built partnerships–some with countries viewed as hostile by the United States–at least while it probes the sincerity and breadth of Washington’s only recently reestablished policy of engagement with Russia.