Moscow (AFP) June 06, 2007
President Vladimir Putin's threat to aim missiles at Europe was a rational Russian response to US missile defence plans and other deployments that call Washington's stated intentions into question, analysts say. His recent rhetorical offensive also marks a "line in the sand" to halt what Moscow sees as a pattern of thwarted expectations and broken promises by the United States since the 1991 Soviet collapse that have left Russia feeling isolated and threatened, they say.
"The US has literally changed its military deployment in Europe," said Bob Ayers, a former US intelligence officer specialising in intelligence and security policy as an associate fellow with the London-based international policy think tank Chatham House.
"They're moving forces into bases in Poland and countries that were former members of the Warsaw Pact. In Russian eyes, here's the US superpower drawing closer and closer to their borders. "Even if the Russians were not paranoid they would have to be asking the question: Why are you doing this?
"We're not seeing a Russian action here. We're seeing a Russian reaction -- to things that we have done," Ayers said.
Despite controversy over US plans to deploy components of a new missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, Washington insists the system is only to protect against missiles from "rogue states" like Iran or North Korea and in no way dilutes the potency of Russia's strategic deterrent.
Indeed no one claims that the 10 simple interceptor missiles Washington wants to place in Poland themselves constitute a viable defence against Russia's missile forces. But the claim that deployment of the new system "poses no threat" to Russia is disingenuous at best, analysts say.
"Any missile defence system is de facto an element of the strategic balance in the world," explained Gennady Evstafiev, former head of the proliferation department in the Russian SVR foreign intelligence service and a retired general accredited to the Russia-NATO Council until 2003.
"The Americans say 'well, it's just these 10 little rockets'. But this is not the issue -- of course these things are not a threat to us," Evstafiev told AFP. "The real issue is that no one knows what comes next. What do the Americans plan to do after that?"
It is precisely that uncertainty about how the United States will proceed after it has set up the missile shield in central Europe that most worries Russia, experts say.
In his interview with newspapers from the Group of Eight countries on the eve of this week's summit, Putin explicitly underscored the linkage between the ostensibly "harmless" US missile defence shield to be deployed in Europe and Washington's strategic nuclear deterrent.
The US plan "simply alters the entire international security configuration," Putin said.
US officials reject Putin's analysis and insist Russia has nothing to worry about. "This missile shield is directed at other nations," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said last week.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has repeatedly -- and, in the eyes of Russian policymakers, arrogantly -- termed Russia's concerns over the missile shield "ludicrous."
But Evstafiev, now a senior advisor with the Centre for Policy Studies, an independent Moscow-based security think tank, echoed comments from top Russian officials who say they do not consider their own worries to be ludicrous.
He said that in addition to the basing of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland the US plan to install a powerful radar outside Prague was also a source of major concern in Russian strategic planning circles.
"This radar is linked to space-based elements and will survey Russian territory as far east as the Urals," he said, adding that it would give the United States unprecedented intelligence on Russian missile deployments and ballistic trajectories.
Other analysts agree and say Washington would do well to find a way to definitively calm Russia's worry over the missile shield.
"Missile defence locks us in confrontational mentality, imposing Cold War schemes on the US-Russian relationship," said Pavel Podvig, an international security expert at Stanford University in the United States.
"This is what Rice should have termed 'purely ludicrous'," he said in an article published recently by the specialist nuclear security journal Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Tensions between the United States and Russia generated by the missile shield plans have probably been compounded by a series of factors since the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union that have fostered a sense in Moscow that Washington is not playing straight, analysts said.
Specifically, Moscow feels Washington reneged on pledges not to expand NATO into the former Warsaw Pact, demands Russian compliance with European military pacts it refuses to ratify itself and takes an extremely dim view of the 2002 US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty.
"Putin's reaction is very, very understandable," Ayers said. "Here's a guy who feels threatened by a nuclear superpower. And the Americans' reasons for why they are doing this missile defence are just not credible."
earlier related report
Putin was to meet US President George W. Bush on Thursday in one of the most eagerly awaited encounters on the sidelines of the G8 summit.
Tensions between the Kremlin leader and his Western partners have overshadowed the summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, underscoring Russia's sometimes uncomfortable presence in the rich democracies' club.
Russia's bitter opposition to a planned US anti-missile shield in central Europe, plus European Union concern that Moscow is bullying smaller neighbours were likely to intrude on summit debate on global warming and African poverty.
Other sore points are Russia's opposition to a Western-backed plan for Kosovo to become virtually independent, EU frustration at Moscow's energy export policies, and accusations of Russian cyber attacks against EU member Estonia.
The Kremlin leader, whose increasingly assertive foreign policy is backed by enormous gas and oil revenues, says he wants dialogue, but he has a mountain to climb if he hopes to repair strained alliances with other G8 members.
Russia's relationship with the United States is in disarray amid mutal acrimony over US plans for an anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Ahead of his departure for Germany, Putin warned that Russia's nuclear missile forces could resume Cold War targeting of European cities if the US deployment goes ahead -- an unprecedented stepping up of rhetoric in the debate.
His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, attempted Wednesday to soften the warning, telling journalists in Germany that "this wasn't a kind of threating statement" and that retargeting missiles could be only "one of the possible means" to react.
But Peskov did say there would be a "totally effective" response to any deployment of a US missile defence system.
Bush, who insists the shield would not threaten Russia, also sought to defuse some of the tension on arriving in Heiligendamm, saying he saw no danger in Putin's warning.
"Russia is not going to attack Europe," Bush said.
However, the previous day Bush had struck out at Putin's handling of democratic reforms -- an especially sensitive area in US-Russian relations -- saying they had been "derailed".
Putin will also face a delicate diplomatic act when he meets Thursday with France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Kremlin leader waited an unusual 48 hours before congratulating Sarkozy on his May election win and pundits expect a cooling of the Franco-Russian relationship now that Putin's friend Jacques Chirac is gone.
On Friday, Putin meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is under pressure to raise Britain's demand for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, an ex-KGB officer accused in the murder of a Putin critic in London last year.
Peskov said Putin did not want to discuss the matter.
"The case is a criminal one and we wouldn't want it to be politicised and we wouldn't want it to harm our bilateral relations," Peskov said.
Putin's other meetings include talks with the leaders of Canada, China and Japan.
Analysts say mounting East-West tension in large part results from energy-rich Russia's attempt recover international influence lost in the Soviet collapse and to end US dominance worldwide.
"We will have to get used to a world in which Russia sees itself as stronger and more often willing to assert its agenda," said Christopher Weafer, chief investment strategist at Alfa Bank, which specialises in Russia.
earlier related report
But he told a meeting with youth organisations here that Russia would continue to defend itself against Western "pressure".
"Whatever people say, there will be no return to the Cold War," Ivanov said, according to Interfax news agency.
"We are developing our modern weapons, both intercontinental and tactical, not because we want to threaten anybody.
"Russia wants to be sure that in any situation, it can defend itself properly, so no-one can blackmail or put pressure on us," he added, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
Ivanov also criticised the US plan to extend its anti-missile defence shield into Poland and the Czech Republic, saying it represented "the appearance of an element of (US) nuclear strategic forces" in Europe.
Earlier Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of adopting a "Cold War mentality" in planning to set up the shield.
Washington insists the project is not aimed at Russia but at rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Russia Plans Totally Effective Response To US Missile Plan
Heiligendamm, Germany (AFP) Jun 06, 2007
Russia plans a "totally effective" response to any deployment of a US anti-missile system, but will not necessarily aim weapons at European cities, the Kremlin spokesman said Wednesday. "It will be totally effective from the point of view of ensuring our security," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters at the Group of Eight summit in Germany.
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