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Russia Eyes Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty As Next Pullout

File image of a Pershing II missile.
By Jacob Quamme
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) July 30, 2007
As disagreements over NATO's eastward expansion, ballistic missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe, the status of Kosovo and others continue to strain NATO-Russian relations, Russia has shown an increasing willingness to re-examine its arms-control obligations with the alleged intent of guarding its national interests. Most recently, Russia has suspended participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and has threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as well -- an action that Russia has recently tied specifically to possible U.S. missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe.

A close look at Russia's 20-year relationship with the INF Treaty, however, indicates that withdrawal from the treaty may be less dependent on U.S. missile defense deployments than commonly thought.

The INF treaty came as the result of nearly a decade of negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1977 the Soviets decided to deploy their newly developed intermediate-range RT-21M Pioneer missiles -- SS-20 Sabre by NATO classification -- in Eastern Europe as an alternative to larger, more expensive inter-continental ballistic missiles.

The move was designed to help maintain nuclear parity with the United States at a relatively low cost and to threaten Western European cities. Within two years, however, NATO responded by adopting its so-called Dual-Track Strategy, which called for arms-control negotiations while simultaneously deploying U.S. Pershing II missiles and BGM-109G ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe. In the end, the strategic balance remained unchanged, and Europe was left with less time to mitigate potential conflict.

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987, resulting in the destruction of 2,700 missiles with ranges between 300 miles and 3,300 miles along with their launchers and support systems.

The combined costs of designing, building, deploying and subsequently destroying these missiles have been estimated at roughly 6 billion rubles, unadjusted for inflation, dedicated to measures that yielded no significant military advantage.

Russia is not likely to have forgotten this lesson, so how can Russian hints at withdrawing from INF be justified? To answer this, we must look beyond the ballistic missile defense debate and the rhetoric surrounding it.

Russian officials have long lamented the loss of these missiles. In March 2005 media reports disclosed that former Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov mentioned the possibility of Russia's withdrawal from the INF treaty during a January 2005 meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

An unnamed source close to the Defense Ministry leadership explained that Ivanov asked Rumsfeld how the United States might react to a hypothetical Russian withdrawal from the treaty. Rumsfeld is said to have not protested the idea.

At a later meeting, while discussing the possibility of placing conventional warheads on intercontinental missiles to counter terrorist threats, Ivanov is reported to have said, "One could even consider a theoretical possibility of using intermediate-range missiles, although the United States and Russia cannot have them, unlike many other countries, which already have such missiles."

Russian Army Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevsky was also quoted in February 2007 as saying, "Many countries are developing and perfecting medium-range rockets. ... Unfortunately, by adhering to the INF Treaty, Russia lost many unique missile systems."

Indeed, it is worthy to note that the Russian military made extensive use of short-range ballistic missiles in Chechnya for missions that the United States or other powers would likely have used attack helicopters. This is due largely to training inadequacies, lack of spare parts and poor maintenance habits in the Russian military, which frequently made such options unavailable. Russian experts believe that maintaining conventionally armed ballistic missiles for these types of missions would be cheaper than restoring the combat ability of its air and ground forces.

While short-range ballistic missiles may have worked well during the Chechen war, however, future regional conflicts may require missiles capable of longer range in order to reach targets outside Russia's borders.

Why Russia wants more short-range missiles
Using intermediate-range missiles against NATO is unnecessary for Russia. Russian Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky said during a July 2007 interview, "As for the deployment of missiles of this class in the western part of Russia ... I don't see such necessity so far," adding, "The issue of withdrawal or non-withdrawal is a political decision."

Russian ICBMs do require minimum distances in order to be effective; however, Russia's growing fleet of road-mobile Topol-M missiles, rail-mobile systems and submarine-launched ballistic missiles can be positioned so as to put required targets within range relatively easily. Alternatively, air-launched cruise missiles are not restricted under the INF Treaty and could be used effectively in a hypothetical conflict.

Russia could target the 10 U.S. missile defense interceptors in Poland -- which are still theoretical at this point -- by deploying short-range Iskander-M conventionally armed ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad. Therefore, Russia would have very little military incentive to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty if in fact its goal was to threaten NATO.

Redevelopment and redeployment of intermediate-range missiles for use against NATO also presents several logistical problems. Russia's primary ballistic missile assembly plant at Votkinsk is only capable of a historical peak production capacity of approximately 80 missiles per year.

Since the actual rate of production has been closer to the minimum rate -- 12-15 per year for more than a decade -- Votkinsk's optimal production capacity is likely to have fallen closer to 30 missiles per year as unused production lines have been shut down.

Numbers like these will not frighten NATO, and Russia knows it.

The media has been focusing on the possibility of Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty only in terms of declining relations between Washington and Moscow, accelerated by the controversial missile-defense debate.

Russia's desire to restart production of intermediate-range missiles should not, however, be interpreted merely as a product of these developments. Russia's desire to abrogate the INF Treaty outdates the Polish/Czech missile-defense deployment debate.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official complained that Russia had privately told U.S. officials that Moscow wants medium-range missiles to counter Iran's missiles, yet publicly criticizes the United States and its plans to deploy missile interceptors designed to combat the same threat.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made similar comments during an April 23 interview: "I have the impression that ... it has nothing to do with developments in Western Europe or the ballistic missile sites. There is a concern about the development of threats to the south of Russia."

Indeed, Russian Army Chief of Staff Gen. Yury Baluyevsky indicated that the decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty is dependent on whether the United States decides to deploy missile-defense components in Eastern Europe, during the same interview in which he complained that other nations were free to develop intermediate-range missiles while the United States and Russia were not.

U.S. missile-defense plans, while genuinely disliked by the Kremlin, are serving Russian military interests by providing grounds for withdrawing from the INF Treaty.

Baluyevsky's comments, combined with former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's comments on the desirability of conventionally armed intermediate-range missiles, demonstrate Russia's desire to possess intermediate-range missiles.

If these weapons were intended to threaten the United States or NATO, however, Ivanov would not have solicited U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's opinion on the potential American reaction beforehand. Furthermore, Russia knows that threatening INF withdrawal will not, by itself, affect U.S. plans to deploy missile-defense components in Eastern Europe, in the same way that suspending the CFE Treaty has not.

Russia can play this hand as well as possible, however, and if the United States does back down, Russia wins. If the United States moves forward with missile-defense deployments anyway, Russia can claim it was "forced" to do what it has essentially asked for permission to do for several years, and withdraw from the INF Treaty.

earlier related report
CFE Arms Control Treaty Contradicts Reality Says Putin
Moscow (AFP) July 25 - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday brushed aside criticism of his decision to withdraw from a key European arms control treaty, saying the pact contradicted "reality" and was out of date.

The 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty "came from the time when there were two blocs, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The situation has undergone a cardinal change," Putin was quoted by news agency RIA Novosti as saying.

The treaty "has clearly come to contradict reality," he said.

Putin's stand was in sharp contrast to that of the head of the NATO military alliance, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who on Tuesday stressed the treaty's ongoing importance since its revision in 1999.

"Do not forget that the adapted treaty does not reflect the realities of the past, the era of large blocs facing off against each other, but those of a situation marked by cooperation in security in Europe," said De Hoop Scheffer.

Russia said on July 14 it would stop complying with the treaty, which limits the deployment of conventional arms in Europe.

It attributed its withdrawal to the failure of NATO members to ratify the revised 1999 version of the treaty, although Moscow has also been riled by US plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in central Europe. NATO members have refused to ratify the CFE treaty until Moscow pulls its peacekeepers out of former Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova.

The withdrawal from the treaty comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West that some commentators have likened to the 20th century Cold War.

earlier related report
Russia's retreat from CFE treaty 'chilling' to neighbors
Ottawa (AFP) July 25, 2007 Moscow's decision to freeze a key Soviet-era Russia-NATO arms pact must not sway upcoming elections in neighboring Ukraine, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay urged Wednesday.

"The withdrawal or suspension of the treaty has had a very chilling effect, particularly on the surrounding countries and those of the former Soviet Bloc," MacKay said.

He expressed "real concern and dismay at (this) ominous development," noting that officials he met with during a recent visit to Kiev "were similarly disturbed and full of trepidation about what this actually meant."

"This should not impact on the aspirations and the direction in which Ukraine has been headed, as far as their elections," he stressed.

"And it should not be allowed to intimidate people or cause them to fall under some false pretense that this is going to be retribution or in some way that this is going to destabilize their democratic hopes and aspirations for possible ascendancy to NATO and the EU," he said referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union.

Russia said this month that it would suspend its application of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty within 150 days -- on December 12.

Russia attributed its freeze to the failure of NATO members to ratify a revised 1999 version of the treaty, but Moscow has also been riled by US plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, two former Soviet satellite states.

MacKay blasted Russia's "overreaction" to the anti-missile shield plan.

NATO countries have said they would only ratify the CFE treaty once Moscow has lived up to a pledge made in 1999 to pull its troops out of former Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova.

Meanwhile, early last month, pro-western President Viktor Yushchenko set parliamentary elections in an effort to end a two-month power struggle in Ukraine.

Yushchenko signed a presidential decree after hammering out a political agreement with his Moscow-backed rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who had previously defied presidential orders to hold early polls in the ex-Soviet republic.

MacKay said: "Canada and other countries must stand strong with Ukraine ... and must demonstrate clear support for Ukraine at this important time."

earlier related report
Russia Will Withdraw From Farcical Arms Agreement
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 23 - International diplomacy has never been a particularly sane creature, but today it has clearly become even more unbalanced. President Putin has signed a decree suspending Russia's fulfillment of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) and related international agreements. It will withdraw from the CFE 150 days after the signatory countries receive the official notifications, which are most likely already on their way.

The West immediately frowned and expressed its regret over Moscow's moves. The disappointment, I presume, was genuine - it is not too often in diplomatic practice that a group of countries can successfully pull the wool over the eyes of a treaty participant for decades. And when the deceived party finally sees the light, disappointment is natural.

But let us take a brief look back at the treaty's history. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty was signed in 1990 - a year before the breakup of the U.S.S.R. A modified version, taking into account new geopolitical realities, was inked in 1999 in Istanbul, but ratified only by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The Baltics did not join it. Georgia and Moldova refused to ratify it, demanding that Russian troops be pulled out under the Istanbul agreements, which were signed together with the agreement adapting the CFE.

This is the pretext under which NATO countries have been blocking the entry into force of the adapted treaty. Considering that Russian troops have already pulled out of Georgia as stipulated by the Istanbul agreements and Transdnestr only has the minimum force needed to keep peace in that area, the excuse rings hollow. On the other hand, the West has done whatever it pleased over these past decades: it bombed and dismembered Yugoslavia, brought American and NATO bases closer to the Russian borders (in spite of having promised never to do so), armed the Baltic countries (because they do not formally belong to the CFE), grossly violated the UN Charter (in Iraq) and is now proposing to place an American missile defense shield under Russia's nose. One need not be a political expert to get the sense that something is not quite right here.

Nor is this sad conclusion altered by the idea that the CFE is actually a Potemkin treaty, although Europe often loftily refers to it as "the cornerstone of European security." Sergei Karaganov, one of the leading Russian experts on Europe, said: "I think the treaty is destined for the ash heap of history. Well, good riddance." In the view of the deputy director for research of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, "We will now have our hands free...The concern they are showing is hypocritical. But everybody knows that the treaty was a non-starter and was used to take advantage of Russia's weakness in the 1990s."

Theoretically, the 150-day moratorium granted by Moscow enables Western politicians to review their policy, but there is little chance the treaty will be revived - politics all too often succumbs to inertia. So it looks like the world has forgotten all about the bright future it imagined was in store for it during the heady days of the last century; its optimism, it seems, has faded almost as fast as the millennial fireworks. The fact that the 21st century has failed to live up to the hopes pinned on it is clear. The new generation of politicians has not grown smarter. It is unwilling to take its partners' interests into account and incapable of learning from past mistakes.

What good has come for the European Union from a build-up in the number of European bureaucrats deciding the lives of Europeans? None. They were unable to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the break-up of the U.S.S.R. They did not want to welcome Moscow into the fold by breaking down the Iron Curtain and building in its place a bridge of trust. Instead, they strengthened NATO, gave Russia the unfair CFE Treaty, brought military equipment nearer to Russian borders, allowed American missile facilities to be installed in the Czech Republic and Poland, and so on.

Blinded by its own hubris, Europe missed the most important thing. Now, taking a closer look, it has suddenly discovered that it is facing not a helpless Yeltsin-era Russia, but a Russia of Putin, gathering strength and full of ambition. As a result of major foreign policy blunders, Europe is likely to face very real Russian nuclear missiles, armor and heavy artillery instead of tranquil eastern borders.

It could not have been otherwise. Moscow is within its rights to protect its security as it sees fit. Not because it wants to arm itself once again, but because Condoleezza Rice, Javier Solana and the rest of the American-European political comrades-in-arms have left Russia no other options.

Every world crisis, like every rock slide, is set in motion by a single stone. In the case of Europe, there are three potential stones: missile defense, Kosovo and the CFE. All it will take is for someone to touch just one of them.

(Jacob Quamme is a research assistant at the Center for Defense Information, a liberal Washington think tank.)

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interest of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

Source: Agence France-Presse

Source: RIA Novosti

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