RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) May 08, 2007
Europe will have to make an important decision: to accept Washington's plans of deploying missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic contrary to Russia's interests, or to demand that the Untied States discuss the issue with Russia first. The decision may be made within days in Brussels, where the NATO-Russia Council is scheduled to meet on May 10. ABM will most likely stand at the top of the agenda, and Russia also intends to raise the issue of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe.
NATO countries have refused to ratify the CFE treaty, demanding that Russia first withdraw from Soviet-era bases in Georgia and Moldova as stipulated by the Istanbul Agreements. Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected the argument as unsubstantiated, saying that the deployment of conventional forces in Europe is not legally connected with the Istanbul Agreements.
Russia is complying with the CFE provisions, whereas NATO countries have not even ratified it, even though they claim the treaty is the cornerstone of European security.
The planned deployment of elements of the U.S. ballistic missile system in Europe has poured more fuel onto the flames. Some time before the Council meeting, Putin proposed that Russia should unilaterally suspend the implementation of the CFE treaty.
"I propose to discuss the issue at the Russia-NATO Council, and if progress is not reached in negotiations, [we may] consider the possibility of terminating our obligations under the CFE treaty," Putin said.
Washington, Brussels and the whole of Europe apparently considered the statement as Moscow's reaction to the possible deployment of American ballistic missile defense systems close to the Russian border.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Batiste Mattei said Paris hoped the CFE and ABM issues would be discussed at the forthcoming NATO-Russia Council, and called for Russia to reconsider its decision regarding the CFE treaty.
Other European politicians expressed their views more radically.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the issue of deploying the American ballistic missile shield in Europe should be decided by Europeans, who must not give a third party the right to veto actions by a sovereign state. He also expressed disappointment over Russia's stance on the CFE treaty.
In short, opinions ahead of the NATO-Russia Council meeting vary dramatically, and the only surprising thing is the absence of statements by European politicians on the ratification of the CFE treaty, which they view as the cornerstone of European security.
Their unwillingness to meet Moscow halfway can be explained by the fact that some European countries are flagrantly violating CFE provisions, whereas Russia has fewer weapons in its treaty zone than it is allowed to have. It would make sense for European countries to heed Russia's grievances over the ABM issue.
According to the Kremlin, Washington's arguments that the missile defense system is a shield from Iran and North Korea only "camouflage the system's real goals," which are "Russia and a change of the strategic balance in favor of the Untied States." This is the opinion of General Yury Baluyevsky, Chief of Russia's General Staff, who will represent Russia at the May 10 NATO-Russia Council meeting.
The situation has become more complicated after the heads of two subcommittees in U.S. Congress criticized Washington's plans to deploy the ballistic missile defense system in Europe. Democratic Congressmen asked why the White House had discussed the issue separately with Poland and the Czech Republic instead of raising the issue in NATO, if the system was aimed at protecting Europe as a whole.
Congressmen said they respected the concern of many of their European allies over the planned deployment of the nuclear missile shield contrary to Russia's stance.
So, there are reasonable views on the ABM and CFE issues in the West. But will they be voiced at the Brussels meeting?
earlier related report
"The Armed Forces development plan through 2010 was approved by the Russian president. It is being implemented and will not be amended," said Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces.
He said the plan could only be revised if drastic changes occur globally.
"Thus far no such changes have taken place," he said.
Gen. Baluyevsky also said Russia does not intend to use the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty to provide an asymmetric response to U.S. missile shield plans.
"If someone thinks Russia's position on American missile defense and the CFE are linked, they are wrong," he told a briefing in Moscow.
He said Russia could respond with less expensive options, adding that the missile defense program was onerous even for the American budget.
He said Moscow will respond without fail if it sees missile defense as a threat to its national interests.
"Exactly what measures will be taken is a technical matter," he said.
Gen. Baluyevsky said should it break out, a new "Cold War" would set U.S.-Russian relations back 50 years, adding it is vital to prevent such a situation.
He said Russia has succeeded in shifting the issue of missile defense deployment in Europe from a bilateral level to an OSCE format.
He said earlier he will attend a Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels May 10.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed previously that Russia should unilaterally suspend the implementation of the CFE treaty until other parties to the treaty ratify the document.
"I think it is necessary to announce a moratorium on Russia's implementation of the CFE treaty until all NATO countries ratify it and start to strictly adhere to it, as Russia does today unilaterally," Putin said in his annual state of the nation address to parliament.
The CFE was concluded in 1990 by the then-22 NATO members and the now defunct Warsaw Pact to enhance arms control in Europe, and amended in 1999 to take post-Cold War realities into account.
NATO countries have not ratified the new version, demanding that Russia first withdraw from Soviet-era bases in Georgia and Moldova under the Istanbul Agreements.
Putin also suggested that Russia might consider leaving the CFE treaty if talks with NATO countries show no visible progress in the implementation of the treaty in the future.
A Kremlin source later confirmed the Kremlin's determination to follow up on Putin's proposal, giving the alliance a year to make a decision on the CFE or face Russia's unilateral withdrawal from the treaty.
The strong statement made by the Russian leader triggered an immediate response from NATO headquarters in Brussels, which said the alliance is expecting to receive clarification on the Russian position in the near future.
Guy Roberts, a senior NATO official, said Thursday he hopes President Vladimir Putin's proposal on Russia's withdrawal from the CFE treaty is not a final decision.
Putin's statement came following U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile defense shield in Central Europe, as well as to finance NGOs and opposition parties in Russia in a bid to improve the country's democratic record. Moscow regards the prospects as a security threat and meddling in its domestic affairs.
U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice earlier said Russia's worries over the U.S. missile defense plans in Central Europe are "ludicrous," adding that Russia should respect the CFE treaty.
"These are treaty obligations and everyone is expected to live up to them," Rice told journalists.
earlier related report
In an effort to ease bilateral strains, Moscow and Washington have reached an unusual agreement to have their foreign and defence ministers meet, particularly to address Russian concerns about the missile shield.
But the differences go far beyond this one, albeit important, problem.
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a favourite to replace President Vladimir Putin next year, said Thursday that Moscow would no longer inform partners when it moves troops across its territory.
The announcement, the application of a freeze Putin made on the Soviet-era Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, was the first concrete move in what are tense and possibly changing times.
In the past, the West "accepted the rhetoric when Russian leaders denounced the United States or NATO, but it's not so easy any more," said a diplomat at the military alliance.
At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Norway late last month, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, reacting to the Russian treaty freeze, said it was vital to keep relations between Moscow and Washington calm.
"We must avoid an escalation," he said.
But a NATO official said "the tone between the (NATO) allies and Russia has now hardened."
"It seems that we've gone back to times before the NATO-Russia Council, just as we are getting ready to celebrate its fifth anniversary in Moscow and Saint Petersburg," he said, in reference to Moscow's regular talks with NATO.
Indeed problems of political and military nature, which have simmered almost unnoticed for years, are now bubbling to the surface.
NATO's willingness to continue expanding eastward -- into former Soviet republics and satellite states -- or the installation of US military bases in Bulgaria and Romania last year -- are perceived by Russia as threats.
The Kremlin, whose rhetoric has hardened as elections approach in December and March, also sees the moves as contrary to commitments made by the West as the Soviet Union fell apart.
So Washington's announcement in January that it wanted to extend its defence shield into Europe -- through 10 missile interceptors in Poland linked to a radar in the Czech Republic -- only threw fat on the fire.
US offers to calm Russia's fears about the system, meant to combat "rogue states" like Iran, by sharing early warning data and boosting military cooperation have so far borne little fruit.
"For the moment, Moscow has not responded to the offers of cooperation that the United States made recently, still obviously hoping to block the project," a NATO diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Russia may also go beyond its moratorium on the CFE treaty.
In February, Moscow threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) so that it could resume production of tactical nuclear missiles.
"Russia seems to want to try to end the relationship that it built up with the United States in the 1990s and in the most theatrical way possible," experts at the Paris-based Strategic Research Foundation said last month.
In this atmosphere of confrontation, some at NATO fear that Kosovo, where the alliance has some 16,000 troops and whose ethnic Albanian majority is impatient for independence, could ultimately pay the price.
"A Russian veto on independence for the Serbian province followed by the US unilaterally recognising Kosovo (as independent) can no longer be ruled out," a diplomat warned.
Kosovo's leaders are threatening to break away at the end of the month as Russia threatens to veto "supervised independence" at the US Security Council, increasing tensions between the Albanians and the minority Serbs there.
The opinions expressed in the first article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Source: RIA Novosti
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Moscow (RIA Novosti) May 08, 2007
Having proposed deployment of missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, and getting their tentative consent to host them, Washington has been met with not only Russia's tough reaction but also the most unpleasant irritation of its main European allies.
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