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NATO-Russia Missile Row Intensifies – OpEd


By Hassan Beheshtipour

Representatives from NATO’s 28 member states and senior Russian officials discussed two important points during a one-day meeting in Sochi on July 4, 2011. First, the manner of deployment of an offensive system known as ‘missile-defense system’ and second the way to continue the NATO’s war in Libya as Moscow has invariably rapped the alliance’s bombing of Libya, calling it in violation of the UN Security Council resolution.

As expected, the talks failed to offer a solution to neither one of the matters. The Question is why? Russia and the US began a process to normalize their ties, which became known as the ‘reset’ of relations. The process meant to successfully address NATO’s expansion towards the east, the deployment of the missile system — which Moscow has called a threat to its sensitive areas — and, recently, the alliance’s attacks on Libya — issues, over which the two sides have more difference.

The Russia-NATO meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, in November 2010 created the hope that Moscow and NATO could cooperate to solve the issue over the missile system — the most contentious of matters. However, US refusal to provide the security guarantees asked by Russia engendered the prospect of a new arms race between Moscow and the West.

Stalemate in missile shield talks

Remarks by Russian and NATO officials after the Sochi meeting clearly points to the widening of the rift over missile deployment with Moscow blaming the failure of the talks on Washington’s unilateral approach and saying the missile project could destroy its joint security plans with NATO.

Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin has warned that if the country is not given a role in the missile project in Europe, a new round of arms race would start. In addition, Moscow could break off the START II agreement with the US on nuclear disarmament.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said after the meeting with NATO that, although, Moscow does not consider NATO a threat, the country should still protect itself.

During the meeting, he regretted that the alliance did not approve of a joint Russia-NATO missile system, which includes joint launch pads.

NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made it clear in a press conference broadcast live on the internet that the alliance insists on separate missile systems. He reminded that the apparatuses had to be in contact but each owner can separately decide whether to fire missiles.

Russia needs more than just such a course of action.

Whenever the missile talks have ended up in a stalemate, Russia has threatened that, if the negotiations failed, it would set up its own missile system near the border with its neighbor Poland, which is also a NATO member. Accordingly, Russia’s Space Forces Commander Oleg Ostapenko has said the country is set to bring into operation a missile-tracking radar system.

The Sochi talks show that even Obama and Medvedev’s political tango has not been able to bridge the rifts. This is while, Moscow is still insistent upon cooperation and partnership with NATO. The crisis in Libya, however, makes it impossible for Russia to trust the alliance.

Moscow complains about its lack of control over the missile apparatuses planned to be established in Europe and has for long been demanding guarantees for its security.

The US in its long-term plans has been seeking to use its ‘surround and control’ policy on Russia.

Therefore, it is trying to expand its influence towards Russia’s western borders by enabling Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO membership on the one hand.

On the other, Washington is attempting to overpower Russia’s ballistic might by creating a missile umbrella under the pretext of implementing the ‘missile defense plan.’

The special Representative of the Russian Federation for Interaction with NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, travelled to the US in mid July in hopes of finding a way out of the current deadlock through dialogue. If the talks fail, Russia plans to unveil its future missile defense program by the end of the year.

The truth is that Russia and NATO differ over the nature of the proposed US missile program in Europe. Russia believes balanced participation in the program is more suitable while the US and NATO have only agreed to Russia’s limited participation so far.

Furthermore, Russia is seeking guarantees that the forth phase of the missile program, which deals with anti-ballistic missile systems, will not be used against it. Russia is concerned that the missile system in Europe will undermine its nuclear capabilities, in which case it will look into upgrading its air and space capabilities while enhancing other offensive abilities, especially on its western border with Europe. Russia may also consider withdrawing from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty known as Start II if the talks fail.

Who does the future of Libya belong to?

The negotiations between NATO and Russia over the situation in Libya failed to bear results as well. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the two sides were not able to come to an agreement over the implementation of the United Nations resolution.

Resolution 1973 paved the way for NATO to support rebels and launch an offensive against Gaddafi’s forces. Russia had given a vote of abstention on the resolution at the United Nations. Over the past few months Moscow has been voicing its concern over NATO’s extended offensive campaign and the severity of the attacks on Gaddafi. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and South African President Jacob Zuma were both present at the NATO-Russia talks held in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Russia, given a number of its concerns over Libya, gave the abstention vote at the Security Council. As the fall of its number one ally in North Africa has become imminent in recent days, Russia is now concerned that the establishment of a pro-Western government in Libya will weaken its interests in the region. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has maintained a strategic relationship at the highest political, economic, and defense level with Libya and Algeria in North Africa.


1. It is extremely unlikely that Russia will get sufficient guarantees from the US over the so called missile defense system. The guarantees Russia wants from the US and its allies mostly revolve around the location of the missiles as well as the strategic and technical characteristics of the missiles. The ideal cooperation between the sides would be to have an integrated defense system with each country responsible for the security of their own area; but the US insists that it is exclusion to such a plan.

Russia’s pressure on the US have not been taken seriously as the country’s maneuvering ability has been hampered by recent financial hardships; and especially because Russia will be holding parliamentary elections in six month and presidential elections in nine.

2. Russia views the Middle East and North Africa as a strategic region in its political competition with the US. Therefore, the Russians have taken measured steps regarding the recent developments in Libya.

The Russians know that Gaddafi’s replacement will be a pro-Western one -exactly the opposite situation as in Egypt. This fact cannot secure Russia’s interests in the region. In Egypt the fall of Mubarak was to Russia’s advantage as Mubarak was Washington’s strategic ally in the region.

Despite the fact that it is not yet clear what the political orientation of the new government of Egypt will be; but the next government that comes to power in Egypt will certainly not be worse than Mubarak’s for Russia.

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