In what some news sources described as another sign of the Russian military leadership’s growing dissatisfaction with President Vladimir Putin’s recent turn toward the West, a high-ranking Russian general said last week that Moscow would make no concessions to the United States on fundamental issues related to strategic stability. The comments, made by General Staff Deputy Chief Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, came as Moscow learned of U.S. plans to conduct a test of its ballistic missile defense system over the weekend. They also came about a week before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was scheduled to visit the Russian capital for talks that will presumably include new discussions on missile defense, the ABM Treaty and Russian-U.S. strategic arms reductions. Baluevsky has been heavily involved in Russian-U.S. consultations in these areas, and was included in the delegation that accompanied President Vladimir Putin to Washington last month for summit talks with U.S. President George W. Bush. His views appear to represent the military leadership’s unhappiness over some of the results of the Russian-U.S. summit, and the hopes of some senior commanders that they can push the Kremlin to take a harder line on issues related to strategic arms control.
In his remarks to reporters on November 30, Baluevsky insisted that Russia “has not and will not make any concessions [to the United States] on questions related” to missile defense and strategic nuclear force reductions. His remarks appeared to directly contradict public statements Putin himself made in the run up to the November summit meeting. The Russian leader had said on several occasions that Moscow was now prepared to amend the ABM Treaty, statements most commentators interpreted to mean that Moscow was ready to accept increased U.S. missile defense testing so long as the treaty itself survived. Putin was never clear on precisely what sort of concessions he had in mind, however, and despite some hopes that the summit might produce a breakthrough agreement in this area, the U.S. and Russian sides were not able to resolve their differences.
Baluevsky was also critical, moreover, of what in the end emerged as the only concrete (and that a limited one) result of the Putin-Bush summit meeting–their joint pledges to reduce the two countries’ strategic nuclear stockpiles by roughly two-thirds. Baluevsky indirectly restated earlier Russian condemnations of Washington’s unwillingness during the summit to codify these cuts in a formal arms control agreement, saying that Moscow had still not received answers to key technical questions regarding how the affected warheads were to be taken out of service or how the process was to be monitored.
Perhaps more important, Baluevsky returned to some of the harsher rhetoric that Moscow had used to condemn U.S. missile defense plans prior to September 11 and Putin’s subsequent decision to join the U.S.-led antiterrorism drive. He charged, for example, that American arguments for liquidating the ABM Treaty lacked foundation, and dusted off old Russian warnings that Moscow was prepared to take the necessary military countermeasures in the event that the United States withdrew from the ABM treaty unilaterally. He also returned to a line of reasoning that the Kremlin has more recently abandoned when he charged that an American withdrawal from the ABM accord would lead to a “surge in the development of missile programs and an arms race in the development of weapons of mass destruction.” The world will, he added, become a less stable place.
Baluevsky’s remarks involved saber-rattling only to a degree, however. He also suggested that the Russian military leadership is now comfortable with the notion that Russian-U.S. strategic arms reductions will not be perfectly symmetrical and will yield a smaller Russian arsenal than American. He also expressed hope that Russian-U.S. talks in this area will continue. In addition, he offered a limited endorsement of recent negotiations aimed at improving relations between Russia and NATO, saying that Russia would never “enter NATO’s military structures” but that Moscow is “prepared to expand cooperation with NATO, as long as it is done under conditions which safeguard Russian national security interests.” That is rhetoric of a considerably milder stripe than heard from some other top Russian commanders during a meeting of the top Brass which took place in the immediate aftermath of the November 13-16 Russian-U.S. summit (AFP, Reuters, Interfax, Strana.ru, November 30; The Guardian, December 1).
Indeed, what is perhaps most interesting about Baluevsky’s November 30 remarks is not so much their substance–the high command’s unhappiness with some of Putin’s recently adopted security policies is well known–but the fact that he voiced his implied criticism of Kremlin policy publicly. In that regard, his comments, together with those made at the earlier meeting of top Russian commanders (see the Monitor, November 16), would appear to mark the second time since the November 13-16 summit meeting that senior commanders have publicly questioned Kremlin policies in this area. This is especially surprising insofar as it comes after a long period in which the Kremlin appeared to have successfully put a stop to public squawking by hawkish defense chiefs, and it raises questions over whether public remarks such as those by Baluevsky have been officially authorized.
Whether such incidents represent the beginning of a real backlash by military leaders against Putin, as some in Moscow have warned, remains to be seen. It is, after all, possible that the Kremlin itself is using this military discontent to increase its own leverage in arms talks with the U.S. side. But rumors have increased of late that defense leaders are unhappy with the Kremlin on an array of issues (including, especially, Putin’s military reform plans), and there is also increased speculation of tensions between Putin and his handpicked defense minister, the civilian and former Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov. Putin has been devoting a great deal of time lately to military issues, and that may be because he is feeling some pressure to exert greater control over his defense establishment.
Those in Russia who continue to favor a harder line on the issue of the ABM treaty, meanwhile, won a small diplomatic victory last week when the UN General Assembly voted on November 29 in favor of maintaining the 1972 accord. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that the results of the vote “testify to the growing support in the world for this treaty and a striving not to allow its destruction.” It also said that Russia would continue its efforts “to adhere to this unique treaty,” which it described as ensuring strategic stability in the world while allowing for cuts in nuclear weapons. The United States voted against the nonbinding resolution, which adopted Russian arguments in calling on Washington and Moscow to exert renewed efforts to preserve and strengthen the treaty and which warned that any action undermining the pact could threaten world peace (AP, November 30).
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