Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 132

Amid this diplomatic maneuvering, meanwhile, mixed signals were emanating from Moscow regarding the Kremlin’s willingness to deal on the question of U.S. sought changes to the ABM treaty. Bush administration officials had professed after the June summit in Slovenia to be cheered by the unexpected “receptivity” Putin had shown to U.S. missile defense plans and Washington’s need to conduct research that would violate the treaty. Yet the Russian President appeared to throw some cold water on U.S. hopes only a few days later when he bluntly warned that any unilateral move by the United States to deploy a missile defense system would be met with Russian military countermeasures, including the mounting of multiple warheads on Russian missiles (see the Monitor, June 18, 21). However, various Russian experts warned that Russia’s strategic missile forces would, in fact, be hard pressed to carry out Putin’s threatened response (Novye Izvestia, Izvestia, July 4).

The picture in Moscow, meanwhile, was further muddied by the comments of two senior military leaders. On June 26 Marshal Igor Sergeev, the long-time defense minister who is now an aide to the Russian president, told reporters that Russia actually faces a greater threat from ballistic missile attack than does the United States. The comment, in which Sergeev pointed the finger specifically at missile and nuclear weapons developments in India and Pakistan, seemed to suggest that Moscow was buying into Bush administration arguments regarding the growing threat posed by proliferating missile technologies. Sergeev appeared to be contradicted only two days later, however, when a senior Russian Defense Ministry official stated that upcoming arms control talks between Moscow and Washington are not considered by Moscow even to be official negotiations. “Negotiations would mean we have something concrete to discuss,” the unnamed official said. But for now, he said, the Russian and U.S. sides have agreed only “to look at the [potential ballistic missile] threats and to see which of them are real.” He added that “There are not any negotiations and there will not be any this year, it seems.”

Meanwhile, the notorious hardline head of the Defense Ministry’s foreign liaisons department, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, was quoted on June 29 as saying that Moscow had not ruled out agreeing to changes in the ABM accord. But despite reports portraying this as an indication of a significant easing in Moscow’s position on the matter, Ivashov appeared also–and in subsequent statements–to go out of his way to underline that the only changes he was countenancing were “technical” ones that in no way weakened the “essence” of the treaty. That suggested Moscow’s willingness to deal on the ABM Treaty, at least insofar as it is being projected publicly, remains far too limited to satisfy Washington’s demands (AFP, June 27, 29; Reuters, AP, June 29; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 30).

The weeks ahead should provide an early indication of whether Russia and the United States are on the path to substantive negotiations over missile defense and nuclear arms reduction, or whether disagreements over the ABM Treaty will, as was the case under the Clinton administration, continue to deadlock negotiations. As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week, the Russian-U.S. talks are about to increase greatly in intensity. “We are looking forward to a broad series of discussions with the Russians–on offensive weapons, defensive technologies, on the ABM treaty, on proliferation, nonproliferation and counterproliferation activities” (Reuters, July 5). The Russian-U.S. talks will, moreover, be watched closely by a number of other players, not least by the European Union, China and India. The tone of the talks, not to mention their early results, could have a significant impact on relations between and among all of these countries, and reshaping security alignments in the post-Cold War world.