Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 81

The prospects for Russia and the United States to finalize an historic strategic arms reduction agreement by the time that Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush meet for summit talks in Russia next month looked a little bleaker yesterday after a fourth round of negotiations between the two sides were cut short. Reports of the closed-door talks provided few details of what had happened, but did say that a U.S. delegation headed by Undersecretary of State John Bolton had departed Moscow yesterday prior to what was to have been the second of two days of talks. The same reports indicated that the two sides remained deadlocked over the same series of issues that had frustrated negotiators prior to this week’s talks. They center on Bush administration plans to store rather than destroy nuclear warheads scheduled to be removed from missiles, and also some counting and verification rules related to the planned cuts.

Although one Russian report suggested that Bolton’s early departure yesterday was “no tragedy,” the apparent failure of this week’s talks could be important because they marked the final round of scheduled formal negotiations at this level before the May 23-26 summit. “One cannot say yet whether we will have a treaty because there are still certain differences,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov told ORT television following Bolton’s departure. Mamedov headed the Russian delegation at this week’s talks. At the same time, Moscow and Washington will get several more swings at the arms reduction agreement in the days ahead, one in talks scheduled for this weekend, when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrives in the Russian capital, and the other next week, when Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov travels to the United States for a final round of talks preparatory to the summit with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bolton’s unexpected departure from Moscow yesterday–the U.S. embassy said it had no information available on why he left and the Russian Foreign Ministry refused to comment–was surprising in part because the first day of talks between Russia and the United States, on April 23, had apparently passed without incident. Indeed, the Interfax news agency quoted unnamed sources “close to the negotiations” as saying that the two sides had “managed to further clarify their positions.” The same sources were quoted as saying that differences between the two sides “were not of insurmountable character.” The April 23 talks, moreover, came a day after Powell and Ivanov held a telephone conversation devoted to the arms reduction issue.

For all of that, Russian sources suggested on the eve of this week’s talks that Moscow and Washington still had significant differences even as the negotiations entered a “decisive phase.” Not unexpectedly, those differences appeared to center on Russia’s continued unhappiness not only over U.S. plans to store rather destroy thousands of warheads scheduled for reductions–the planned U.S. “hedge” or reserve force–but also over worries about parallel American plans to store U.S. launch vehicles. The Itar-Tass news agency quoted an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry official who said that the latest round of talks would focus on procedures for decommissioning both warheads and carrier rockets. The same official said that the “new agreement on strategic attack weapons should envisage not storing the carriers, as the United States proposes, but their physical demolition under strict control of the other side.”

Under proposals first enunciated during a Russian-U.S. summit in Washington and Texas last November, Russia and the United States have committed to cutting their nuclear arsenals from approximately 6,000 nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200. Independent analyses of the Bush administration’s recently publicized Nuclear Posture Review have concluded, however, that the administration may in fact be planning to put virtually all the warheads scheduled for reduction into storage, from which they might later be returned to service. That plan has led Russia to charge that Washington is in fact seeking only “virtual” cuts in strategic arms. The U.S. plan appears also to be the basis for the Bush administration effort to focus the current arms reduction talks with Russia on the 1,700-2,200 “operationally deployed” warheads only, and to thereby avoid what would surely be difficult talks regarding disposition of the remaining warheads and delivery systems. Western arms control advocates, meanwhile, have warned that the Bush administration’s plans could lead Russia to pursue a similar strategy of storing rather than destroying nuclear warheads, and that this could intensify the already considerable proliferation problems that Moscow faces in safeguarding its existing nuclear arsenal.

It appeared noteworthy yesterday that reports out of Moscow also identified the Russian side’s continued concerns over U.S. missile defense plans as an additional obstacle to a strategic arms cut agreement. It is unclear precisely what Moscow is seeking in this area, though reports have suggested that Russia would like to impose limits on any U.S. missile defense system to ensure that it does not constitute a threat to Russia’s own deterrent. Indeed, one influential Russian expert, Vladimir Dvorkin, insisted this week that Moscow is insisting on a “direct link between offensive strategic arms and defense systems, that is, missile defense.” Dvorkin is head of the Center for Problems of Strategic Nuclear Forces in Moscow.

There have likewise been suggestions that this linkage between offensive and defensive systems is one of several issues that the two sides are seeking to deal with in a second document–a declaration on a New Strategic Framework–that Presidents Putin and Bush would also like to sign during next month’s summit meeting. The strategic framework declaration is to be a political document that will cover a broad range of security issues and is intended, in a sense, to serve as a symbolic representation of improved Russian-U.S. relations in the wake of September 11. The Russian and U.S. presidents could still convey that message when they meet in May, but the summit will clearly lose some its sheen if an arms cut agreement is not ready for signing. That means the two countries are likely in the days ahead to intensify even further their efforts to finalize an agreement. For Russia, by far the weaker player in the current negotiations, that could likewise mean intensification of an internal battle over whether the country is better served by signing a “bad” arms agreement with Washington, or whether it should hold out for a pact that better meets its perceived national interests (Reuters, AP,, April 23-24; DPA, Interfax, April 23; AFP, April 24-25; AP, March 1; Reuters, March 22; Acronym Institute, March 21-22).