After the Russian and American Presidents’ summit in Ljubljana, the dialog about antimissile defense (AMD) problems between Moscow and Washington has become increasingly tense. Despite that fact that many observers considered the Russian-American summit successful, during the last week the parties exchanged some very unpleasant statements, proving that their stance has remained unchanged.
In a long interview with American journalists, Vladimir Putin said for the first time that Russia might return to the development of MIRV missiles. Speaking to senators on June 21, US State Secretary Collin Powell announced, in response to Putin’s interview, that the arguments according to which Russia may suddenly rush into the weapon race are slightly exaggerated, particularly when the Russian party speaks about this itself. Powell warned that the actions of the US would contradict the ABM treaty at trial stage, but in this case the US would act in a unilateral manner. Finally, Powell said a couple of soothing words about the limits of the system, stating that it would protect selected objects from a limited number of missiles. The State Secretary added, that the US is not trying to create a type of protection over which Russia and China may lose the ability to sleep quietly.
Putin responded to this speech immediately. For the first time in post-Soviet history, a Russian President explained in detail what Moscow could use to oppose US national missile defense (NMD) plans. During a press conference after negotiations with Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Putin said that the creation of an NMD would lead to the qualitative superiority of American armed forces. He emphasized, “This is not our choice, but if it is made we will need to think what to do.” Russia will also be guided by the cost efficiency principle.
Putin announced that the mounting of cassettes with three or four warheads could be one of the response options. He noted that, “This is the cheapest response that no one will be able to resist within the next 50 years, and probably 100.” He stressed that, “If we are told that the NMD is not aimed against Russia, I can say that the response of Russia would not be aimed against those who create the NMD.”
Such statements by the leader of the country hardly have a purely political character. It is probable that before speaking about the possibility of developing a missile with three or four warheads, Putin made certain calculations with the support of experts.
It is necessary at least to recall that in early 2001 he visited Ukraine, and the Yuzhmash plant in Dnepropetrovsk. During Soviet times, Yuzhmash used to produce heavy MIRV missiles. Employees at the plant did not hide the fact that they were working under Russian orders, but, of course, these orders are secret. We cannot rule out the possibility that if Russian leaders decide to develop new-generation heavy missiles, Moscow would use Ukrainian missile specialists.
This possibility become stronger still when one considers the fact that during his meeting with Putin, Victor Chernomyrdin, who was appointed Ambassador to Ukraine, focused the attention of the President on the fact that it would be necessary to collaborate with Ukraine primarily in the missile building, aircraft building, and defense industry as a whole.
Meanwhile, it is too early to say that the statements by the Russian and American parties about the AMD are final. So far, the majority of European countries are not in support of the American plans (except, probably, for Poland). France and Germany have become ardent opponents of the American NMD plans. Many American politicians, particularly those from the opposition, are cautious about Bush’s idea of deploying the NMD. June 25 Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned against unnecessary agitation with regard to this issue. He claimed that the press is unsuccessfully attempting to create the impression that a new arms race has begun between Russia and the US.
Ivanov added that experts from both countries are seeking compromises in global security. Ivanov has stated that, “Were the armaments race irreversible, there would be no consultations or negotiations about it, especially at the supreme level.” Ivanov has also said that certain mass media (primarily the press) claims that Russia is going to threaten somebody. This is not true. “For a number of years we were speaking about the negative consequences of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. The most unpredictable factor is probably not Russia’s behavior, but the behavior of those whom the US refers to as rogue states, and, according to our definition, other states that can take really unpredictable measures,” concluded the Defense Minister.
Thus, there is consistency and logic in Moscow’s actions in the dialog with the US about the NMD problem. This circumstance inspires some certainty that it will be possible to change Washington’s stance with the support of international opinion. This means that Russian-American relations have the potential for trust and development.