Russia and the United States discuss forthcoming disarmament.

Russia and the United States have failed so far to breach the gap over key issues of international security (ballistic missile defense and strategic offensive arms reduction. “Fortunately, Moscow and Washington formulated a certain framework for continuation of the talks next year,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said when the Russian-US consultations ended, yesterday. Acting US Undersecretary of State John Rood represented George W. Bush’s Administration in the talks.

“This latest round of the talks was fine,” Ryabkov said. “We tallied the work with the leaving Administration. Also importantly, both sides acknowledged the necessity to come up by the end of the next year with a legally binding agreement to replace the START I and to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem fomented by the plans to establish the third position area of the American ballistic missile defense system in Europe.”

Rood confirmed the agreement with Russia to come up with a new document replacing the START I by December 2009. “Granted that the goal is ambitious, both parties are resolved to concentrate on it,” the US official said. Rood even recalled the draft treaty the Americans had forwarded to Moscow a short while ago. “The fact that we drew the whole treaty confirms our sincerity,” he said. “We received Russian comments on the document today… I’m departing Moscow with a clearer understanding of Russian position on the problems of strategic arms reduction, ballistic missile defense, and other issues in the focus of our attention.”

The new treaty on nuclear arms control is needed to replace the START I the USSR and the United States signed on July 31, 1991, one that expires on December 5, 2009. Russia promotes the necessity to keep central provisions of the START I including the ones dealing with quantity of warheads at warehouses and conventional delivery means. Their absence from the new treaty will leave dangerous gaps in the strategic arms control framework. The Americans in their turn insist on an agreement on tactically deployed warheads only. The latest contacts between representatives of Moscow and Washington, however, indicate the possibility of a compromise.

Ballistic missile defense remains a major irritant in the Russian-US relations, one that affects lots of other issues. “Negotiations over ballistic missile defense will be particularly taxing,” Ryabkov admitted yesterday. The Kremlin is stone-cold confident that installation of a radar in the Czech Republic and deployment of killer missiles in Poland pose a threat to Russia since both objects may be aimed and targeted at Russian nuclear arsenals. Official Washington insists that the ballistic missile defense system is needed to intercept Iranian missiles only.

“Future of the Russian-American talks depends to a considerable extent on how the problem of ballistic missile defense is solved,” to quote Alexander Pikayev, Director of the Disarmament and Conflict Settlement Department of the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations. Pikayev recalled the report on the costs and expenses of the ABM program recently drawn by US Congress experts. To put it bluntly, authors of the document advised the White House to forget installation of elements of the American ballistic missile defense system in East Europe and save $13.5 billion, money that could be put to a better use considering the global financial crisis under way.

“Numerous powerful US politicians emphasize that Washington’s obsession with development of ballistic missile defense framework in the Czech Republic and Poland provokes Russia into retaliation. Another global crisis is really the last thing the Americans need at this point. As things stand, they already have enough troubles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and some other regions. That is why the United States just might try and find a way to gradually abandon its plans of a global ballistic missile defense framework without acknowledgement of Russia’s vexation so as to be spare the Americans accusations of weakness and readiness to bow to Moscow. All things considered, references to the cost and technical inadequacy of the whole project may offer a fine way out for the Americans,” Pikayev said.

Progress in the matters of strategic arms reduction and ballistic missile defense is only possible after Barack Obama’s inauguration scheduled for January 20, 2009. “The Americans are showing respect for the national political tradition that does not permit the going US Administration to leave its successor a mess in terms of relations with the other nuclear power,” Nikolai Zlobin of the Washington-based Global Security Institute said. “It follows that Bush’s Administration has to do something about the US-Russian relations.”

Obama’s appearance in the White House may remedy the situation. “The US political establishment ponders making a complete ban on nuclear weapons the first foreign political priority nowadays,” Zlobin said. “This idea is promoted by former state secretaries George P. Shultz and Henry Kissenger, erstwhile secretary of defense William Perry, and ex-chairman of the senatorial Armed Forces Committee San Nunn. All these people wield a lot of clout with the American political establishment, you know.”

Senator Richard Lugar, Nunn’s colleague in the Russian-American weapons of mass destruction control program, is expected in Moscow today. Lugar is coming to meet with Senior Deputy Premier Igor Shuvalov, Deputy Premier Igor Sechin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and other Russian officials to discuss arms control.