Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 105

Talks in Budapest yesterday between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov lent some credence to Felgenhauer’s reading of recent events. After the talks the Russian minister not only reiterated Moscow’s position on retaining the ABM Treaty, but also denied that the reported U.S. aid package to Moscow had even been on the discussion agenda. “The appearance of this well-known speculation of a proposal from the American side does not change our position on strategic stability, in particular the ABM treaty,” Ivanov told reporters. He also said that there had been “no discussion and no proposal and there cannot be, for they are completely separate issues which are in no way linked…. There can be no question of a trade-off” (Reuters, Russian agencies, May 30).

Despite the many obstacles to an agreement, Ivanov’s comments and related developments this week do not mean that Moscow is unwilling to deal on the issues of missile defense and the ABM Treaty. But the package of proposals the Bush administration floated this week–which in many respects just recycle ideas first mooted by the Clinton administration–is probably not enough to do the trick (New York Times, May 30). Moscow’s baseline demands should become clearer in the weeks to come, as Russian and U.S. officials intensify contacts in connection with meetings of the presidents of the two countries scheduled for June and July. In the meantime, Moscow seems likely to hew to what has become its official approach to Russian-U.S. relations and the missile defense issue: affirmations of Moscow’s eagerness to negotiate with Washington (absent saber-rattling from the military leadership); praise for the Bush administration’s more recent willingness to consult with foreign partners on key strategic issues; and continued insistence that the ABM Treaty remains the cornerstone of international security.

If Ivanov’s remarks in Budapest yesterday are any indication, Russian diplomats will also continue to accent their call for the creation of a Russian-U.S. working group on strategic stability (Russian agencies, May 30). Creation of the working group, and the scheduling under its auspices of regular Russian-U.S. consultations on strategic issues, another Russian proposal, would further several of Moscow’s key goals. Most important, it would reestablish a special strategic relationship between Moscow and Washington–one that would put Moscow back at the center of international deliberations on strategic issues (something that the Bush administration has sought to avoid)–while providing the Kremlin with both a forum to push its own strategic agenda and credibility before the Europeans as a reasonable and valuable international partner.