Russia Sends Conflicting Messages on Missile Defenses

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Russia Sends Conflicting Messages on Missile Defenses


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SENT mixed signals during September about the possible consequences of a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which prohibits both countries from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles.

Interviewed September 1 by the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated the Kremlin's long-standing position that the ABM Treaty is not "outdated," as the Bush administration has argued. Yet, Putin said, if the United States determines that it "doesn't need any talks or any treaties," Moscow "will not stir up any hysteria." Putin explained that Russia has enough missiles to "guarantee" its security "for many decades ahead."

However, during a September 19 interview with a German television station, Putin said that the START agreements, which cap the number of deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads, are linked to the ABM Treaty. If the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty, then the START accords, along with some 30 other agreements and treaties, would be "destroyed overnight," Putin said.

Although a common refrain from Russian officials throughout this year, the Kremlin had notably avoided such dire predictions over the previous several weeks. Visiting Moscow September 17, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton had even observed that whereas Russian officials used to contend that a U.S. ABM Treaty withdrawal "might-precipitate the withdrawal of other parties from many other arms control treaties.. they're not saying that anymore."

Russian Colonel-General Yuriy Baluyevskiy, who has been leading a Russian delegation in talks with Pentagon officials about the treaty and missile defenses, declared September 11 that Russia would continue talks with the United States even if Washington withdrew from the ABM Treaty. After referring to the "trust and openness" in US.-Russian relations, Baluyevskiy said, "The withdrawal of the U.S. from the ABM Treaty will not cancel these relations." One week earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had also told an Italian news agency that U.S.-Russian relations should not be "hostage" to one issue.

Yet Russian officials have urged the Bush administration not to act alone and with haste. In his remarks to the Italian news agency, Ivanov said unilateral actions should be avoided and that existing agreements should not be scrapped until better ones are in place.

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Russia Sends Conflicting Messages on Missile Defenses
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