Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 119

Security issues figured prominently in the recent two days of talks in Berlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Putin used an address to German businessmen on June 15 to restate in harsh terms Moscow’s continuing opposition to NATO enlargement. He warned, among other things, that Moscow would see the granting of NATO membership to any of the three former Soviet Baltic republics–Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia–as a reckless act and a major strategic challenge to Moscow. He was quoted as saying that NATO enlargement “doesn’t serve to strengthen European security,” and asked why NATO is moving toward Russia’s frontiers (Reuters, June 15).

As expected, Putin also used his visit to exploit yet again deepening German (and broader European) concerns over Washington’s missile defense plans and its threats to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. The Russian president warned that U.S. actions in this area could lead to a new arms race and he called the national missile defense plan being pursued by the United States a “very dangerous development” and one that should not be allowed to continue. “If Russia faces a threat,” he told the German businessmen, “it will destabilize not just Europe, but the whole world” (AP, UPI, June 15).

Also as expected, Putin tried to drum up German support for a Kremlin plan envisioning cooperation between the United States, NATO, Russia and Europe in the creation of a missile defense shield for Europe. In addition, the Russian president used his Berlin visit to lay out what appeared to be a new proposal under which European governments–or the European Union as a body–would be invited to take part in a Russian-U.S. early warning missile center that is to be built in Moscow (International agencies, June 15-16).

Putin’s missile defense proposals appeared to win Schroeder’s cautious acceptance. Schroeder said that the Russian plan “merits attention” and should be welcomed as part of a broad Western effort to encourage Russia to play a role in improving European security. Schroeder’s top foreign policy adviser, Michael Steiner, meanwhile, told reporters that Putin had lobbied privately for Moscow’s vision of a pan-European ballistic missile defense system as an alternative to U.S. plans. He said that Putin had also rejected U.S. arguments–some which U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen voiced recently–that the Russian plan is not technologically feasible. Steiner said that the German chancellor had not rebuffed Putin’s proposal, but had also made clear that Germany remains anchored firmly in the Western alliance. But Putin also said that “our position is that the ABM Treaty plays an important role in the arms control architecture,” and that this position “does not contradict the American position” (Washington Post, June 17; Reuters, June 18). The degree to which that last assessment is true remains to be seen. In the meantime, Russian missile defense proposals, and Moscow’s continuing opposition to changes in the ABM treaty, seem sure to intensify already serious differences between Washington and its European allies in this delicate and increasingly controversial area.