President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
signed the START treaty on nuclear weapons today. While both hailed
the missile reduction pact as a landmark, Russia is uneasy about its
Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev flourished their pens
and signed the START nuclear missile reduction treaty in Prague
today. The deal was a year in the making and represents the first
major strategic accord between the former superpowers since the end
of the cold war.
It was a warm and smile-filled "kumbaya" moment for the US and
Russia, whose relationship has seen some stomach-churning ups and
downs in recent years. President Obama hailed the agreement as an
"important milestone for nuclear security and nonproliferation and
for US-Russia relations."
But the gloomy signals coming out of Moscow this week suggest
that the Russians harbor serious doubts about the viability of the
treaty they just signed and even deeper misgivings about Barack
Obama's changes to US nuclear weapons doctrine that are ostensibly
aimed at moving toward a nuclear weapons-free world.
IN PICTURES: Nuclear Weapons
"We are seeing, in sharp relief, that the US and Russia view the
strategic landscape through completely different lenses," says
Dmitry Suslov, an expert with the Council on Foreign and Defense
Policies, a Moscow think tank whose members include top Kremlin
advisers. "Moscow is laying down the message that this new treaty is
fine, but we should not interpret this as a new era in relations.
The strategic picture is changing in ways that Russia is not
completely comfortable with, and we need to keep our options open."
In a wide-ranging press conference Tuesday, Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov shocked many by warning that Russia might
pull out of the treaty if US plans to station strategic anti-
missile interceptors in Europe, which were suspended by Mr. Obama
last year, are revived during the 10-year life of the START
"If and when our monitoring of how those plans are implemented
shows they are entering a stage of creating strategic missile
defense systems ... we will have the right to resort to [withdrawal]
provisions provided in this treaty," Mr. Lavrov said.
He also made clear that Russia is not open to the further cuts in
nuclear arsenals that the White House is already pressing for, and
appeared to wonder out loud whether Obama's campaign for a nuclear
weapons-free world wasn't part of an American plot to dominate the
globe via its supremacy in conventional arms.
"We believe the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons
is very important," he said. "[But] world states will hardly accept
a situation in which nuclear weapons disappear, but weapons that are
no less destabilizing emerge in the hands of certain members of the
Some experts say Lavrov was addressing domestic skeptics,
including the powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who has
publicly criticized the treaty.
"President Medvedev is very worried about possible domestic
opposition to this treaty," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director
of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Several
parties in the Duma, including United Russia [which is led by
Putin], and the Communists, have expressed doubts. Medvedev sees a
ratification battle looming."
But Lavrov's tough language also reflects Moscow's deep
disappointment that the accord contains no firm link between the
substantial cuts both sides will be making to their stocks of
offensive atomic weapons and Russia's demand for follow-on
negotiations to limit strategic missile defense. …