Russia gets tough over US first-strike support shield


Richard Moore

        ...the Guardian reports that while the center-right,
        pro-American governments of Poland and the Czech Republic
        support the missile defense plan, "some opposition parties
        are against the plan and polls in recent weeks suggest that
        up to two-thirds of Poles and Czechs oppose their country
        taking part.

Original source URLs:

US-Russia tensions rise over antimissile bases

Russia has threatened to withdraw from INF missile treaty, and target proposed 
US bases in Poland, Czech Republic.

By Arthur Bright |

A top advisor to President Bush left for Moscow Tuesday to deal with rising 
tensions between the US and Russia over American plans to build missile defense 
bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The International Herald Tribune reports that national security advisor Stephen 
Hadley set out for talks in Moscow just a day after a Russian general warned 
that Poland and the Czech Republic could become targets if they played host to 
US antimissile bases, meant to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles.

The trip by the adviser, Stephen Hadley, was planned weeks ago. But it now comes
in the context of the harsh Russian words about the antimissile plan, the 
earlier stinging denunciation of U.S. policy by [Russian] President Vladimir 
Putin, and the underlying Russian suggestion that a hidden American agenda is 
designed to expand its influence in Eastern Europe.

Comments earlier this month by Mr. Putin were hostile to the US missile defense 
plan, saying that American plans to build such a shield had "overstepped its 
national boundaries in every way."

RIA Novosti reports that those American antimissle bases could prompt Russia to 
withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that the US and
USSR signed in 1987. Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russia's Strategic Missile 
Forces, said Tuesday that "If a political decision is taken to quit the treaty, 
the Strategic Missile Forces are ready to carry out this task." RIA Novosti adds
that Mr. Solovtsov's comments were not the first time that Russia has publicly 
mentioned leaving the treaty.

Army General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said last 
February 15 that Moscow might unilaterally abandon the treaty.

"It is possible for a party to abandon the treaty [unilaterally] if it provides 
convincing evidence that it is necessary to do so," said Baluyevsky. "We 
currently have such evidence."

The INF treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and
cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles). By 
the treaty's deadline of June 1, 1991, a total of 2,692 such weapons had been 
destroyed, 846 by the U.S. and 1,846 by the Soviet Union.

The Associated Press reports that Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski 
dismissed the Russian threat as "an attempt to frighten" Poland, saying Russia's
stance is not about security, but rather about influence.

"To make it clear - this is not about Russian security; these installations do 
not in any way threaten Russia," Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on state Radio 1. "It's
about the status of Poland and Russian hopes that the zone, in other words 
Poland, will once again find itself ... in the Russian sphere of influence."

"From the moment the missile bases are installed here, the chances of that 
happening, for at least decades to come, very much declines," he said.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg similarly dismissed Russian comments,
calling them "blackmail," reports Reuters.

"The Czechs will now think the shield is even more necessary," Schwarzenberg 
told Reuters on the sidelines of a business conference in Warsaw.

"We have quite an experience with Russians. You have to make clear to them you 
won't succumb to blackmail. Once you give in to blackmail, there's no going 
back. We have to be strong."

However, the Guardian reports that while the center-right, pro-American 
governments of Poland and the Czech Republic support the missile defense plan, 
"some opposition parties are against the plan and polls in recent weeks suggest 
that up to two-thirds of Poles and Czechs oppose their country taking part."

There is concern among some that greater ties with the US will increase the 
threat of domestic terrorism. A recent poll showed that 53% of Poles opposed 
hosting a base, while 34% were in favour.

The Guardian also writes that although Mr. Kaczynski and his Czech counterpart, 
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, both oppose referendums on the defense plan, 
they still have concerns about the presence of sovereign US bases on their soil 
and the efficacy of the Bush administration, given its troubles in Iraq.

Despite Polish and Czech claims that Russia's response is about influence, 
Russia says that it is a matter of national security, reports The Washington 
Post, as Iran, the shield's purported focus, is decades away from being a 
missile threat.

Russian officials have said that Iran has no missiles capable of reaching the 
United States or even Western Europe and that Iran is incapable of developing 
them any time soon. Sergei Ivanov, then defense minister, told the German 
newspaper Die Welt this month that it would take "at least 20 years" for Iran to
develop missiles that could reach Central Europe.

"I think you can draw your own conclusions about which missiles this system 
actually targets," Solovtsov said. "This is why we are watching the situation 
with anxiety and concern."

But the Post adds that US officials admit that if they wanted, Russia could 
easily overwhelm the missile shield - which only includes 10 interceptors. Air 
Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency, said in 
January that the interceptors "are directed toward rogue nations' capabilities, 
not an obviously sophisticated ballistic missile fleet such as the Russians 

Still, some experts understand Russia's concern. Otfried Nassauer, director of 
the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security, tells German news 
broadcaster Deutsche Welle that the presence of US bases in Poland and the Czech
Republic would represent a renege of NATO promises to refrain from military 
expansion into new NATO member states near Russia.

As NATO planned its expansion to the East, the alliance had guaranteed Russia it
would not station any important military capacities on the new members' 
territory for the long-term, Nassauer said.

"Now Moscow feels betrayed because the biggest NATO state doesn't feel bound (to
that guarantee) and wants to station national rather than NATO capacities," he 

Global intelligence provider Stratfor writes that while abandoning the INF 
treaty would not make Russia a direct threat to the US, it would effectively 
neutralize the threat to Russia of American missile interceptors, while also 
dramatically shifting Russian military influence in Europe.

Though a direct arms race with the United States remains out of the question, a 
lopsided race in which the Russians focus on IRBMs [intermediate-range ballistic
missiles] could change the game entirely. A barrage of several dozen IRBMs 
easily could overwhelm a small squadron of BMD [ballistic missile defense] 
interceptors based in Europe -- as well as any system that the United States 
conceivably might field in the next 20 years.

To be clear, this is not an option that would buy Russia parity with the United 
States. But it would be a stout reminder to Europe -- and to the United States 
by extension -- that even a weakened Moscow is not to be trifled with. Unable to
reclaim the global power it wielded during the Soviet era, Russia nevertheless 
could use a new IRBM force to threaten Europe and, in so doing, resurrect a host
of diplomatic options that served Kremlin interests very well in the past.

Such a step might not mark Russia as a resurgent world power, but it certainly 
would reforge perceptions of Russia as a power that is impossible to ignore.

Nonetheless, Russia says that the tensions over the US missile defense system 
will not lead to a new arms race, reports RIA Novosti. "The current developments
in the world do not point at a new variant of the Cold War," Mr. Lavrov said.

Copyright © 2007 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

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