Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 109

As had been expected, this weekend’s Russian-U.S. summit meeting in Moscow yielded two arms control agreements of some potential significance. It failed, however, to produce any breakthrough on the key set of issues which have most sharply divided Russia and the United States in recent months: American calls for changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and parallel plans for the deployment of a limited national missile defense system. The failure in this area overshadowed what appeared to have been an otherwise constructive first meeting for Presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin, and came despite some hints on the eve of the summit that the two sides might be on the verge of narrowing some of their differences on these key issues. The summit did yield a joint statement which appeared to reflect Moscow’s recognition of the security threat posed by so-called “rogue states.” But there was little reason to think that the Kremlin was moving in any meaningful way toward Washington’s arguments for the development of a missile defense system. On a personal note, the summit gave the two presidents a chance to get acquainted with one another. Although they appeared to get along well enough, there was reportedly none of the backslapping or quick resort to first names and other familiarity which had marked earlier summits between Clinton and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin (International and Russian agencies, June 3-4).

One of the two accords concluded yesterday builds on an earlier Clinton-Yeltsin accord and involves the destruction of some 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium (34 tons from each country) over a twenty-year period. This is expected to cost US$5.75 billion, with US$4 billion being devoted to the destruction operations in the United States and US$1.75 billion to operations in Russia. But the agreement still lacks funding sources. Moscow and Washington are expected to work together to establish an international funding mechanism which would permit the program to be realized. Talks on the issue will reportedly begin at the July meeting of G-7 countries and Russia in Okinawa, Japan (Financial Times, BBC, June 4).

The second agreement involves the construction of a joint early-warning center in Moscow. The center, which both American and Russian officers will man, builds on a program conducted by Russian and U.S. military personnel in Colorado at the end of last year. It is aimed at reducing the chances of an accidental nuclear exchange by providing, in the words of one senior U.S. official, “a near real-time exchange of the detected information about the launch of ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles that are detected by the warning systems of the two sides.” The same official applauded the program because it should provide a first opportunity for military personnel from the two countries to “be permanently involved in a joint military operation over an extended period.” U.S. efforts to establish the joint early warning center have been prompted by concerns over the dismal state of Russia’s ballistic missile attack and warning systems (The Guardian, June 5; international agencies, June 4).

That the two presidents were not able to make any progress on the key issues of missile defense and the ABM treaty was hardly unexpected, yet just before the summit there were hints that something of significance in this area might be accomplished. Speaking to reporters in Portugal on June 1, for example, Clinton told reporters that he and Putin “might make more headway than most people would expect” during the Moscow talks (see the Monitor, June 2).

Putin himself added to the speculation when he said during an NBC television interview later that same evening that Russia might be interested in a joint effort with the United States aimed at “neutralizing those threats which may be aimed against the U.S. or Russia, or which may be aimed against our allies or Europe.” Putin’s comments did suggest that Moscow, for the first time, had at least recognized the validity of U.S. concerns over the missile threat said to be posed by such states as North Korea, Iraq and Iran. But analysts quickly pointed out that the Russian leader’s vague comments were almost surely a reference not to joint work on the strategic systems under discussion in the United States, but to theater missile defense systems whose deployment would not require changes in the ABM treaty (Washington Post, June 3; international agencies, June 2).

That interpretation appeared to be borne out this weekend. Speaking to Russian radio listeners following his talks with Putin yesterday, Clinton said that the United States might be interested in Putin’s proposal. But he also appeared to make clear that the United States had abandoned the idea of “boost-phase interception” of missiles during their ascent because the technology involved was developing too slowly to keep pace with increasing threats. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott also made it clear that Moscow had in no way revised its opposition to U.S.-sought changes in the ABM treaty and U.S. missile defense plans. In commenting to reporters on the joint Russian-U.S. statement on the “growing threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery,” Talbott made clear that the statement did “not reflect or imply Russian agreement to change the ABM treaty along the lines of our proposal, or, for that matter, the lines of any other proposal” (UPI, June 4).

During the course of his two-day stay in the Russian capital Clinton did reportedly repeat U.S. concerns over Russian military actions in the Caucasus, and urged an investigation into alleged human rights violations in the region. But, in his public statements at least, he appears not to have made a major issue of it. This low-key approach came despite the publication on the eve of Clinton’s arrival in Moscow of a new report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch describing atrocities allegedly committed by Russian troops in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch had strongly urged Clinton to push Putin for an investigation into the new charges (AP, June 3).

Clinton and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright did make a point yesterday of highlighting U.S. concerns over potential threats to press freedoms in Russia. Clinton appeared on Ekho Moskvy radio, a component of the Vladimir Gusinsky-controlled Media-MOST group which has faced harassment from authorities for its criticism of the Putin government and its conduct of the war in Chechnya. Albright, in turn, met with staff from the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty, which has also drawn the ire of Russian authorities. Among the staff members present during Albright’s visit was Andrei Babitsky, the Radio Liberty reporter who was detained by Russian authorities earlier this year for his reporting on the Caucasus war. Clinton was scheduled today to become the first American president to address the Russian State Duma. Reports yesterday said that he would raise with Russian lawmakers many of the same issues that he had addressed in his talks with Putin (Reuters, June 4).