Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 96

The Wolfowitz team’s visit to Moscow, and developments in Russia since that time, suggest the likely contours of Russia’s diplomatic response to Washington’s new efforts to sell its missile defense plan. That response is likely to include praise for U.S. willingness to consult on these matters, and an outwardly reasonable, cooperative and positive approach to future Russian-U.S. talks on this and other topics. This measured Russian approach will be abetted by an order apparently issued by recently named Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that forbids Russia’s uniformed military leaders from spouting off publicly about U.S. missile defense plans (Vremya Novostei, May 7). By quieting the pointless saber rattling on this score so typical of Russian military leaders over the past several years, the Kremlin clearly hopes to impress upon the Europeans Moscow’s suitability as a diplomatic partner. In this same vein, the Kremlin is presumably also aiming to paint the United States–should it stray from its pledge to consult on strategic arms issues–as a unilateralist-bent hegemon intent on riding roughshod over Europe and the rest of the world. Indeed, the Bush administration’s recent turn toward a more consultative approach to missile defense appears to be at least in part the result of this same pressure from Europe for Moscow and Washington to engage in good faith negotiations on missile defense, the ABM treaty and strategic arms control reductions.

Moscow’s ultimate goals in this increasingly complex diplomatic game are harder to decipher at this point. According to some in Russia, the Kremlin intends to hold firm in its defense of the ABM treaty even as it engages in negotiations with Washington, in the hope that anti-Americanism will grow ever stronger in Europe and ultimately lead it to reject U.S. defense plans. The Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says in this context that the Kremlin cannot make any substantive compromises regarding the ABM treaty in any event, because to do so would alienate Vladimir Putin’s real powerbase–the “anti-American, militaristic, jingoistic Russian elite that put him in the Kremlin” (Moscow Times, May 17). Others, however, suggest that Putin is now just looking for the best deal possible with Washington, and that the Kremlin will ultimately be willing to swap concessions on the ABM accord for U.S. strategic arms reductions and, especially, for a partnership role of some sort in the development of a U.S.-European missile shield. Russian sources suggest that, given the immense amounts of money Washington is prepared to put into missile defense, a deal of this sort could be a windfall for Russia’s country’s cash-poor defense industry (Izvestia, May 7; Obshchaya Gazeta, May 8-16). Moscow’s aims should become clearer in the weeks and months to come, as Russia and the United States begin to engage anew, and as Putin approaches what could be a fateful July summit meeting Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, who rules a country that is now the most vociferous critic of U.S. missile defense plans.