Russia Wants U.S. Missile Shield Accord Backed by Lawmakers
Russia, which wants guarantees it isn’t targeted by a U.S.-led missile shield, is demanding an accord ratified by lawmakers of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said.
An agreement providing the guarantees must be drafted by military experts, he said in a May 16 interview at his office in central Moscow. A new U.S. leader won’t easily reject the pact when faced with an accord backed by lawmakers, said Antonov, who oversees missile-defense issues.
“We don’t want to be dependent on one man in the White House,” Antonov said. “What if a new leader comes in November and dismisses all that the previous one has done?”
President Vladimir Putin, who returned to the Kremlin for a third term this month, objects to U.S. plans to house parts of a missile shield in eastern Europe, saying it would undermine his country’s nuclear deterrent. Pre-emptive strikes against the system are possible as a last resort, Nikolai Makarov, chief of Russia’s General Staff, said May 3.
After President Barack Obama told then-President Dmitry Medvedev in March that he will have greater flexibility “after my election” to work out differences over the planned program, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney described Russia as “without question, our number-one geopolitical foe.” Microphones on March 26 also recorded Obama asking Medvedev to let Putin know that he needed to “give me space” to deal with objections to the U.S.’s missile-defense plan.
Obama is hosting a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting on May 20-21 in Chicago, his hometown, where the alliance may declare an “interim capability” of its defense shield. Putin is skipping a summit of the Group of Eight nations at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, which precedes NATO talks.
“We are urging our colleagues to think about the consequences before making any decisions on the missile shield at the Chicago summit,” Antonov said.
The Obama administration has said it will proceed with the project, which was embraced by NATO in 2010, to protect Europe against potential attacks from Iran. Russia has said the U.S.- led plan may provoke a new arms race and upset the strategic balance in the region.
Medvedev ordered the military last November to prepare to “destroy” the system’s command capability and threatened to station strike missiles on Russia’s southern and western flanks to counter the shield.
Earlier this month, Russia held a conference on missile defense in Moscow, attended by representatives from about 50 countries, including top U.S. and NATO officials. The defense system will be reassessed if the danger of attacks from Iran ebbs, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, who led the alliance’s delegation, said in a May 3 interview.
Russian officials have demanded the U.S. provide legal assurances, while the U.S. has said it wouldn’t agree to any limits on its planned system and could provide only “political statements” that the plans aren’t intended to weaken Russia’s strategic deterrence.
“Any agreement requiring U.S. Senate ratification is a dead end,” defense analysts including Ivanka Barzashka, Timur Kadyshev an Ivan Oelrich wrote in an opinion piece published in the New York Times yesterday. “Instead, the State Department has offered political assurances, which Moscow claims are worthless because policies can change.”
Obama and members of his administration lobbied senators in 2010 to ratify a nuclear arms accord with Russia, helping defeat two Republican-sponsored amendments that would have scuttled the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New Start. The Senate approved the agreement 71-26 on Dec. 22, 2010, during a post- election lame-duck session before a reduced Democratic majority in the chamber would have made the vote more difficult.
Medvedev, who helped forge the agreement that took effect in 2011, has since renewed a threat to quit the accord if the two sides can’t reach an agreement on missile defense.
“One of the measures could be Russia stopping nuclear disarmament and terminating our participation in the New Start treaty,” Antonov said. “If you develop a missile shield, you create a problem for further nuclear disarmament. We are being pushed to disarm while the missile shield is being developed.”
While Russia’s position has evolved over recent years, the Americans have refused to budge, according to Antonov.
“We said ‘no’ to the shield several years ago, but then we made a great step forward by agreeing that the U.S. has a right to protect itself,” he said. “All we want is for them not to strengthen their defense by making us weaker.”
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