By Roman Mamonov
This week, President Dmitry Medvedev has yet again demanded that the US should provide guarantees that its European missile defense system is not directed against Russia. Medvedev said that the system as such was design to disrupt the nuclear parity. Russia’s defense ministry has announced plans to call a missile defense conference in Moscow, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama have arranged to meet shortly after Putin’s inauguration in May. But a Russia-NATO summit has been cancelled, NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Evidently, Moscow and Washington are set on entering a new phase in bilateral relations. The new phase is expected to be set into motion on May 7th, the day of the inauguration of President-elect Vladimir Putin. Most experts believe that the reset in Russia-US relations which was launched by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama will now undergo changes, first of all, in connection with the deepening differences over the European missile defense system.
Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly called for a joint missile defense system. He says, however, that all attempts to secure a missile defense dialogue have so far proved fruitless.
“No one can explain why Russia should be convinced that the European missile defense system will not be oriented against it. Those behind it tell us to use it. But using it would mean breaking a nuclear parity. But whatever the case, the dialogue is going on.”
After the US informed Russia about the parameters of the missile defense umbrella in Europe at the beginning of the week, it seemed that the two sides were close to striking accord. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has described the data as useless.
This week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared in a program which was broadcast by the KommersantFM radio station. He spelled out Russia’s position on the missile defense issue.
“The European missile defense system comprises four stages. After the fourth stage has been completed, and if completed in its current form, it will pose a threat to Russia’s strategic deterrent, military experts warn. Moreover, there can be a fifth and a sixth stage, and nobody knows what they will come up to. The two sides should promote partnership in areas of mutual concern. On March 10th Barack Obama spoke on the phone with Russia’s President-elect Vladimir Putin. The two leaders touched on the main aspects of bilateral relations and agreed to meet shortly after Putin’s inauguration.”
However, the hottest news concerning missile defense bases in Europe came from the Russian Defense Ministry, which held a briefing for journalists and foreign embassy personnel this week. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that Moscow would host an international conference on missile defense on the 3rd and 4th of May this year.
The highlight of the conference will be a speech by Chief of the Russian General Staff Nikolai Makarov. According to Voice of Russia reports, the Defense Ministry will hold a special presentation demonstrating that the planned missile defense bases are bound to disrupt the balance of nuclear forces in Europe.
Such rhetoric prompted many observers to signal a setback in Russia-US relations. Pyotr Topychkanov of the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations, comments.
“The relations between Russia and the US are not at their lowest, as some might think, but are developing to mutual satisfaction. Russia is ready for partnership with the US. Vladimir Putin has agreed to set up a transit point in the Central Russian city of Ulyanovsk to facilitate the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. The reset has played its role well. Neither Russia, nor the US, would want a cooling in bilateral relations, or conflict, particularly now that they are faced with so many challenges and problems involving Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. Neither Russia, nor the US will be able to tackle these problems single-handed.”
At present, Moscow and Washington are unprepared for breakthroughs or discussions of current problems. A Russia-NATO summit, which was due to be held in Chicago at the end of May, has been postponed indefinitely. NATO explained that Russia’s domestic agenda was too packed to attend it. Kremlin sources say however that a bilateral summit is unlikely to be held in the near future because the Russia-NATO agenda for this year includes issues which are normally considered at the foreign minister level. Experts are sure that such uncertainly will continue to dominate Russia-US relations until the end of the presidential elections in the US, scheduled for November this year.