Results of negotiations between the Russian and US presidents in Genoa on July 22 remain the subject of heated discussions not only in Russian society but also among politicians and journalists of the world. It is known that George Bush and Vladimir Putin released a joint statement saying that they would comprehensively solve the problems of offensive and defensive arms. The presidents said that they agreed on a principal course of an in-depth reduction of strategic offensive arms. However, the quantitative parameters of the reductions are to be agreed upon at the level of experts. Putin added that in Ljubljana the parties agreed on the organization of work groups from officials of foreign and defense ministries. President Putin called the achievement of the agreement on the comprehensive discussion of offensive and defensive arms reduction problems “unexpected for President Bush and for me.” Putin also reported that he proposed his American counterpart to launch a consultation process about strategic stability as a whole. Putin expressed his hope that experts would achieve progress in this direction in the near future.
The press conference of the presidents shows that it is difficult to say what their agreements were in particular, but their peaceful tone and emphasized loyalty towards each other enabled some observers to conclude that the positions of Russia and the US about the national antimissile defense (AMD) system became closer. Some newspapers (Kommersant and Nezavisimaya Gazeta) presumed that Russia agreed to terminate the ABM treaty of 1972 and would make concessions to the US.
During his meeting with the government the next day, Putin denied journalists’ presumptions. He said that in Genoa Russia again confirmed its adherence to the ABM treaty of 1972, and the Russian party considered this treaty a cornerstone of security. According to President Putin, he discussed problems of strategic stability and world architecture of security in the 21st century with US leader George Bush. “Of course, there is no fundamental breakthrough,” said Putin. Meanwhile, according to him “significant forward movement” started.
Due to this Putin mentioned two crucial aspects. First, Russia is interested in and can take serious steps aimed at the reduction of offensive arms. Second, it was decided to discuss ABM systems and offensive arms as a whole. According to Putin, it is necessary to do this because one kind of armament is connected with another.
We cannot doubt the words of the President, but it is interesting that the two crucial issues about which Putin spoke were not new for Russian international policy.
Some politicians and observers already noticed this peculiarity in their comments at the meeting in Genoa. For instance, according to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, during the meeting of Putin and Bush the issues of strategic stability took center stage. “Of course, the joint statement of the presidents about these issues is very important. It is also important that this joint statement confirmed the agreement of the presidents to begin intensive consultations about interconnected problems of offensive and defensive systems in the near future. Of course, this is fundamentally important. This is our position, and we have explained this position previously,” said Ivanov. He reiterated that Russian President spoke about this stance in his speech on November 13, 2000.
Alexei Podberezkin, leader of the Spiritual Heritage movement, sticks to the same opinion about the agreement on the comprehensive solving of the offensive and defensive arms problems. Podberezkin added that Kommersant was wrong in its estimation of Russia’s position about the ABM in Genoa and said, “For me, as an expert on this topic, it is clear that Putin confirmed the old Soviet idea about the interconnection of offensive and defensive arms. I did not see any retreat from our position.” It is clear that for Russia it is important to reduce its nuclear stockpile synchronously with the US. During the time of negotiations with Bill Clinton, the Russian party frequently announced that it was prepared to cut strategic offensive arms much lower than the level of 3,500 nuclear warheads written in the START-2 Treaty. The US agreed with the need to reduce strategic offensive arms, but did not wish to cut them to 1,500 warheads for each party. The Russian party proposed this figure for the START-3 Treaty, which is currently being forgotten, but not because of the fault of Russia. The US did not ratify the START-2 Treaty yet, and its intention to deploy the NMD made all previous agreements on the limitation of strategic offensive arms doubtful. This was not accidental that on the eve of the summit in Genoa Putin spoke about a possible replacing of monoblock warheads of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles with MIRV warheads.
Later in Genoa he explained that he spoke exclusively about a potential option for Moscow’s response to the US’ unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. According to Putin, Russia hopes that it will manage to come to an agreement with the US about strategic stability issues, and in this case it will not have to respond to any unilateral steps by Washington.
Thus, Russia’s logic in negotiations with the US over strategic stability issues are as follows: first, Moscow wishes to sign the new START-3 Treaty with Washington limiting the number of warheads to 1,500 for each party. This reduction will make a provision of security less expensive for Russia and will be a good incentive for similar actions by third countries who possess nuclear weapons (France, the UK and China). Secondly, the process of the START-3 discussion will evidently be connected with the ABM Treaty of 1972. This is the logic behind Putin’s proposals made in Genoa.
However, at this point observers have questions. Will the ABM treaty of 1972 be modified and to what extent? Will Russia weaken its security if it keeps reducing its nuclear stockpile? What will be Moscow’s response if strategic offensive arms are reduced but the US still withdraws from the ABM Treaty?
Of course, Russia has its own options of response, and Putin already spoke about them in Genoa. Answering the question whether Russia would increase the number of its missiles in response to the NMD deployment by the US, Russian President Putin said, “I did not speak about an increase in the quantity of Russian missiles.” He added that these missiles might be equipped with MIRV warheads, of which Washington was very much afraid, and these warheads would be able to penetrate any perfected ABM system.