U.S.-Russia Ties at Risk Without Europe Missile-Shield Treaty, Envoy Says

Efforts to improve U.S.-Russian relations may be damaged unless the Obama administration agrees to a treaty guaranteeing that a proposed missile shield won’t target its former Cold War foe, Russia’s envoy to NATO said.

Russia isn’t satisfied with U.S. assurances the shield will only guard against attacks by so-called rogue states, Dmitry Rogozin said yesterday in a phone interview from Brussels. It wants the U.S. Senate to ratify an accord ensuring that the system won’t be aimed at Russia’s nuclear arsenal, Rogozin said.

“No one can give us a guarantee that the words of one president will be respected by the next president,” he said. Without a binding deal, “we’ll have to spend a lot of money on new weapons systems, and the U.S. will get zero from political dialogue with Russia and new problems for its security.”

President Barack Obama has sought to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations, which sank to a post-Cold War low following the ex- Soviet power’s war with Georgia in August 2008. Russia is trying to capitalize on improved ties to lure foreign investment and promote its bid to join the World Trade Organization, which sets global trade rules.

“The reset does not mean that the two countries have become close allies or even partners,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst from the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “The reset is not irreversible.”

Russia’s concern about the missile shield escalated May 3, when the U.S. agreed to station interceptor missiles at a Romanian air base as part of a system that will also include facilities in Poland, another former Soviet bloc country.

Not a Threat

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered during a visit to Moscow in March to share missile-launch information and set up a joint data center to soften Russian opposition.

Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the Obama administration sought to ease Russia’s concern by proposing that it play a role in the missile-defense system.

“We believe missile-defense cooperation is the best way to reassure Russia that no element of the U.S. or NATO missile defenses are a threat to Russia’s strategic deterrent,” she said yesterday in comments e-mailed to Bloomberg News.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told Bloomberg on April 1 that the Gates proposal fell short of Russia’s expectations and would “destroy decades of strategic parity” between the two countries.

President Dmitry Medvedev offered at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Lisbon last November to take part in a missile-defense system with the trans-Atlantic alliance, while insisting that Russia must be an equal partner.

‘Red-Button’ Rights

In practical terms, this would mean stationing Russian officers at the command and control center in Brussels and giving them “red-button” rights to launch interceptor missiles, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said April 7 during an interview in Miami.

It’s clear that the U.S., as the world’s only global military power, would “never accept any limitations” on the deployment of the missile-defense system, said Lipman.

This means that the issue once again risks souring ties between the U.S. and Russia, after a similar dispute during the presidency of George W. Bush, she said. At the same time, Russia faces continued obstacles to its membership of the WTO, which it has been trying to join for 18 years.

Russian Concerns

Russian leaders complain the shield, which the U.S. says is needed to guard against missile strikes from countries such as Iran and North Korea, will blunt their nuclear capability. They have warned of a new arms race unless Russia is allowed to work with the U.S. and its allies on missile defense.

In November 2008, during his first state-of-the-nation address, Medvedev said he would deploy nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave sandwiched between NATO members Lithuania and Poland, to “neutralize” a planned U.S. missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama in 2009 scrapped plans for that version of the project, which had been championed by Bush, opening the door for cooperation with Russia.

Carmen Romero, deputy spokeswoman for NATO, said the alliance’s position is that Russia and the alliance should have separate missile-defense systems that exchange information.

“We will not outsource our security and we do not expect that Russia would want to do so either,” Romero said yesterday in a phone interview.

An agreement ensuring that interceptor missiles won’t target Russian weapons is the “absolute minimum” required to avoid an escalation between Russia and NATO, said Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign committee.

“I cannot imagine a situation where we will have normal relations with the U.S. if this minimum doesn’t happen,” Kosachyov said in a May 4 interview. The way the U.S. is behaving “fits into the logic of former President Bush, and not president Obama,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net Lyubov Pronina in Moscow at lpronina@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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