Russia is officially unimpressed by a unilateral US decision to
cancel the final phase of European missile defense a program that
Moscow has gone so far in the past as to almost threaten World War
But despite the Kremlin's cool response to the cancellation,
experts say that the US decision which eliminates, at a stroke,
Moscow's biggest single burning security concern could nonetheless
open the door toward improving US-Russian relations.
The decision, announced over the weekend by Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel, cancels US plans for the fourth and final stage of the
European missile defense shield, which would have involved adding
SM3-IIB long-range interceptor missiles to the system's mix of short-
and-medium range rockets in Poland by 2018.
Russian military officials have explicitly raged against "phase
four" because the SM3 rockets would, theoretically, be capable of
targeting the intercontinental ballistic missiles that make up the
bulk of Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent. The US may also scrap
plans to deploy the long-range interceptors to Romania, another site
Moscow has vigorously opposed.
Though US officials insist the changes have been made for
budgetary reasons, and the need to shift resources to counter a more
actual threat from North Korea 14 new interceptors will be deployed
in Alaska by 2017 Russian experts say the move could nevertheless
be a potential game-changer for the present dismal equation in US-
Russia relations. It should certainly end repeated Russian threats
to walk out of the New START nuclear arms reduction accord if
Moscow's concerns over missile defense aren't heard, they say.
But the initial response from Moscow was a jet of cold water on
"That is not a concession to Russia, nor do we regard it as
such," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview
with the Moscow daily Kommersant. "All aspects of strategic
uncertainty related to the creation of a US and NATO missile defense
system remain. Therefore, our objections also remain."
In the US, conservative critics of the Obama administration may
smell a rat, and see this move as a fulfillment of Mr. Obama's
promise to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, overheard by an
open mic at a Seoul security conference a year ago, that he would be
able to show the Russians "more flexibility" on missile defense
after he was reelected in November.
But Russian conservatives claim they too are suspicious. The
current Kremlin view, laid out in a foreign policy manifesto by then-
presidential candidate Vladimir Putin early last year is that the US
is seeking to attain global military supremacy and that the shifting
of a few missiles here or there will not change that picture.
"This is a murky affair," says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the
State Duma's international affairs committee.
"It's not yet clear what is being moved to where. But judging by
reports, the missiles will be located in Alaska, which means they
will be right on top of our borders and could adversely affect our
security. It might well strengthen US anti-missile defense and pose
new trials for our relations.... So, forgive me if I don't applaud
and shout 'hooray.' At least, let's wait for more information," Mr.
But other experts point out that Russia's relations with the US,
which are arguably at their post-cold war nadir right now, depend on
much more than just a rational assessment of the strategic balance
between the two countries. …