Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 171

The first formal talks between senior Russian and U.S. leaders since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon went raggedly this week, as the two countries appeared to clash anew on the issues of missile defense, arms proliferation and Russian arms export controls. The inconclusive results left at least the initial impression that the looming transformation of the international diplomatic landscape in the wake of the September 11 attacks will not necessarily have any immediate, similarly transforming effect on bilateral relations between Russia and the United States. That may be no surprise, but it will perhaps be a disappointment to some on both sides of the Atlantic whose initial impression following the September 11 events was that they might bring Moscow and Washington closer together.

This week’s talks, in which U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton led a U.S. delegation to Moscow, had initially been scheduled for September 12-14, but were postponed after last Tuesday’s attacks. The talks were important not only for what they suggested about the current state of bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington, but because they also served as the opening act in a more intense and, in one case at least, high-level set of consultations that are to take place this week. Those will involve Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington today. At the same time, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is scheduled–also today–to begin talks in Moscow on cooperation in the U.S. antiterrorism campaign with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov. As a former director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Trubnikov is seen by many as the intelligence establishment’s (and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin’s) eyes and ears in the Foreign Ministry. He is likely to be well versed on issues relevant to the U.S. antiterrorism effort.

But, from Moscow’s point of view at least, the September 17 talks in Moscow probably did not appear to mark an especially auspicious start to this latest round of Russian-U.S. consultations. Reports suggested that the antiterrorism campaign had dominated Bolton’s meetings with both Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov–Moscow’s top man on arms control issues–and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. But the two sides had little to say on the substance of their talks in this area. With respect to the possible stationing of NATO troops in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia–an issue on which Moscow and Washington appear already to be at odds–Bolton said only that it was too early to discuss such problems. “I think those questions are premature. They’ve not been asked and it’s not really appropriate at this point.”

What may have taken Moscow by surprise, given that it presumably expected Washington to come asking for cooperation in the antiterrorism campaign, was the accent that Bolton appeared instead to put on two of the issues that have most divided Russia and the United States in recent years: the Bush administration’s intention to push ahead with missile defense testing and deployment and U.S. accusations that Russia remains a proliferator of dangerous military technologies. Indeed, Bolton made the argument in Moscow that the recent terrorist attacks had not only failed to push these issues into the background, but also made it more important than ever to focus attention on them. With respect to missile defense, Bolton was quoted as saying that though a U.S. missile defense system “would not have prevented” the horror of September 11, “it does show that the United States faces severe threats from terrorism and from rogue states, and that among the things we have to continue to work on is missile defense.”

Many Russian analysts have joined missile defense critics elsewhere in the world in arguing that the September 11 attacks were in fact a low-tech operation that demonstrated just how little relevance missile defense has to the emerging threats of the twenty-first century. But an unnamed U.S. official, speaking on the eve of Bolton’s departure for Moscow and underscoring that the Bush administration would in no way retreat from its push for missile defense testing and deployment, described the September 11 attacks as “high-tech terrorism” of a sort that justified the administration’s missile defense policies. He also declared that “missile defense will not fade as a priority for this administration.”

Bolton appeared also to make it clear in his remarks to reporters on September 17 that he had conveyed to Moscow the Bush administration’s deep misgivings over what he described as Moscow’s continued failures to maintain control over exports of sensitive materials and technologies–including those associated with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Bolton said that the issue is “now the highest priority,” and told reporters that “there has never been more attention to the dangers that terrorists–especially those who might have access to weapons of mass destruction–pose.” His accent on proliferation was interesting because, while the Bush administration had earlier this year accused Moscow of being a major weapons proliferator, U.S. officials had largely muted that charge in subsequent months as they pursued a Russian accommodation on the missile defense issue. U.S. officials had, however, returned to the proliferation issue shortly before the September 11 attacks–at roughly the same time that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was making similar charges during a visit to Moscow (see the Monitor, September 7). It appears that the Bush administration is now going to push Moscow on both the missile defense and the proliferation issues.

Russian officials, meanwhile, answered back in general terms but with some strong language of their own. Zinovy Pak, a top Russian arms official with responsibilities in the area of Russian chemical weapons destruction, said that Russian chemical and biological weapons storage sites were safe and secure. Unnamed Russian “diplomatic sources,” meanwhile, were said by Interfax to have described the U.S. accusations as “openly tendentious,” and to have charged that they were part of a U.S. effort “to throw a shadow over military-technical cooperation between Russia and other governments.” But the Russian Foreign Ministry answered most directly, highlighting Washington’s own rejection of a draft protocol aimed at strengthening the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and at reports confirming the Pentagon’s own continued activities in the area of biological weapons development. And Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov struck back on the missile defense issue and at what U.S. critics charge is the Bush administration’s broader rejection of international security agreements by decrying Washington’s “futile attempts to uphold security in conditions of globalization using unilateral measures at the expense of other states or group of states.” In what is likely also to be Russia’s rallying cry in trying to limit independent U.S. military operations in the looming antiterrorism campaign, Ivanov was also quoted as saying that “there is a single way–seeking answers to threats and challenges on a multilateral basis” (Washington Post, AP, Reuters, September 17; Interfax, September 17-18).