Russia, US at odds on missiles

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates have held meetings in Moscow that some foreign policy and military experts say are unlikely to produce significant results. The talks with Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov covered strategic stability, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, peaceful nuclear cooperation, anti-terrorism initiatives and other international and regional security issues.

In Oct. 2007, the same four failed to agree on missile defence issues at meetings in Moscow. Experts doubt there will be a major diplomatic breakthrough now that President George W Bush is stepping aside at the year end. “As the sun sets over the Bush administration, and the sun rises over the Putin-Medvedev regime, Rice and Gates are making a last ditch attempt to salvage what’s left of a severely damaged bilateral relationship,” Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based political think tank, said. Dmitry Medvedev is Russia’s president-elect.

“They are still smarting from the dressing down (President Vladimir) Putin gave them last time they visited. Yet, there are mutual interests that need to be addressed. This includes the necessity to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” Cohen said a nuclear Iran is not in either’s interest, and the US appreciates Russia’s voting in favour of sanctions. But he says much more needs to be done, such as deployment of ballistic missile interceptors in Poland.

“They do not have explosive warheads, do not target Russian territory, and do not diminish — not even by one iota — the might of the Russian nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the US many times over.” Military experts say Russian-US diplomatic consultations could help narrow differences, to an extent. “If in the consultations the US side confirms in written form the earlier verbal proposals, this will definitely be a weighty step towards easing Moscow’s concerns about the US-proposed plan to deploy a third missile launch area in Europe,” General Viktor Yesin, former head of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces told Interfax-AVN agency.

According to the expert, the US made a verbal proposal during the two plus two talks in Oct. 2007 which envisioned the presence of Russian officers at missile sites in Poland and in the Czech republic, and the loading of interceptor missiles into silos only after a real missile threat emerges. But Yesin says that even if these US proposals are implemented, a number of problems will remain. “I think the key in a solution to the problem of the US global missile shield plan is to be found in implementation of the 2000 Russian-US memorandum on the formation of a joint centre for the exchange of information from early warning and launch notification systems.”

“Media reports that the US could choose Turkey for the deployment of a radar show that a certain shift in position is possible regarding the missile defence issue,” Sergey Rogov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of US and Canada Studies said at the weekend. “The issue could in particular deal with the protection from Iran’s short and medium-range missiles, rather than an invented threat posed by Iran’s non-existing intercontinental ballistic missiles.” — IPS