Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 202

With less than two weeks to go before a long-awaited summit meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, Russian and U.S. diplomats went into high gear this week in an effort to further negotiations both on a possible missile defense deal and on means of solidifying Russian-U.S. cooperation in the U.S.-led antiterror war. Diplomatic contacts took place on a number of fronts, including face-to-face talks in Washington between Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Secretary of State Colin Powell, a telephone conversation between Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo and U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and consultations in Moscow involving delegations led by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister (and a former head of the Russian Intelligence Service) Vyacheslav Trubnikov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is scheduled to depart today for Moscow, where he will hold talks with his counterpart, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. On Wednesday, moreover, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was in Moscow for talks of his own with top Russian officials.

Yesterday’s Ivanov-Powell talks were probably the most important of the consultations that have taken place thus far this week, but neither man had much to say to the press following what was described as a three-and-a-half hour meeting. That silence, however, could not squelch reports that Russia and the United States may be on the verge of a long-sought agreement, one that would amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to permit greater U.S. testing of its missile defense system while also accommodating Russian demands for sharp cuts in the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals. An article published by the Washington Post yesterday, which quoted unnamed U.S. officials, suggested that this would likely be an interim agreement in which the number of strategic warheads fielded by each country would slowly be reduced to between 1,750 and 2,250. Each country now has more than 6,000 strategic warheads, and while the numbers mentioned do not get down to quite to the 1,500 level that Moscow had previously called for, the reported deal does reduce them below both the 3,000-3,500 warhead level set out under the START II Treaty and, potentially, the 2,000-2,500 figure that Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin discussed in 1997.

Just how close the two sides were to such a deal, and whether it is likely to be finalized during the November 13-15 summit, was nevertheless left unclear yesterday. In comments to the press that were made during the Ivanov-Powell talks Rice appeared determined to lower expectations. “We understand better what our own constraints and demands are,” the U.S. national security advisor was quoted as saying, “but I would not jump to any conclusions about precisely how this is all going to come out or when there is going to be an agreement.” Indeed, Rice suggested that talks on missile defense and strategic arms reductions could continue for months beyond this month’s summit, and at least one report yesterday said that the two sides were in fact closer to an agreement on weapons cutbacks than on missile defense. But the same report also said that the U.S. side was deliberately dampening expectations, and that Bush Administration officials were in fact quite optimistic that the Putin-Bush talks–scheduled to start in Washington and then to shift Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas–would produce a breakthrough of some sort. That it is not yet a done deal, however, was suggested by the decision to send Rumsfeld to Moscow. As the U.S. defense secretary put it yesterday, “if those things (the missile defense deal) were all tied up with a ribbon I doubt that I’d be going.”

Meanwhile, some Russian media continue to suggest that Putin could face a nationalist backlash over issues central to the Russian-U.S. relationship–that is, missile defense, NATO enlargement and Russian-U.S. cooperation in the antiterror war–if he does not win some important concessions from Washington during the summit meeting. As defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer put it yesterday in the English-language daily Moscow News, “military leaders, diplomats from the foreign Ministry and people connected to the intelligence community are for the first time freely challenging Putin’s decisions.” There is also talk in Moscow, he said, of Putin having made “grave mistakes” in his efforts to bring Russia closer to the West. The conservative Nezavisimaya Gazeta spoke in similar terms last week, suggesting in one commentary that the United States has thus far failed to compensate Moscow for its steps toward the West and that public discontent with Putin’s policies is spawning derisive commentary on Putin emulating “Gorbachev’s policies” and “Kozyrev’s time.” Gorbachev is frequently criticized in Russia for having presided over the breakup of the Soviet Union without getting anything in return for the West, while former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev is identified with a foreign policy orientation in the early 1990s that critics charge was one-sidedly pro-Western (Washington Post, Reuters, Interfax, November 1; AP, October 31, November 1; Moscow Times, November 1; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 26).