ROAR: Resetting relations in the military sphere

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The idea of military cooperation between Russia and the US will find its supporters and opponents in both countries.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and former ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, has held consultations in Moscow on the issues of missile defense, strategic offensive arms reduction and Iran.

The military cooperation between Moscow and Washington will be part of the resetting of relations, as proclaimed by US President Barack Obama, observers say. Vershbow told Russian media that the Pentagon was interested “in playing its part in strengthening relations with Russia.”

US defense officials had already said that nearly twenty exchanges and operational events with the participation of Russian and US servicemen are planned for the period before the end of 2009. Many military-to-military programs had been suspended after the conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia in August 2008.

Vershbow also said in Moscow that the Pentagon had indicated the possibility of “using Russian radars in Armavir and Gabala, Azerbaijan.” However, only experts will say how this system may work, he added.

President of the National Energy Security Fund, Konstantin Simonov, believes Vershbow’s statement was a good signal. Improving relations, or resetting them, is a positive factor which is especially important in such issues as missile defense and strategic offensive arms reduction, the analyst told Mayak radio. “So any steps toward further cooperation, including the last US moves to exchange data in this sphere, are significant,” he added.

Said Aminov, editor-in-chief of Vestnik PVO online magazine, also thinks that “the joint use of radars in Armavir and Gabala could become the beginning of mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries in the missile defense field.”

“The use of Russian radar installations will allow the US to receive operative information, not spending funds on the construction of their own systems,” the analyst told VestiFM radio. The third ring of missile defense system in Eastern Europe will not be necessary in this case, he said.

The US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other officials in Washington have already spoken about the use of Russian radars, but there were only “general political statements,” Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, noted.

There were no concrete steps in creating a united system of exchange of information and assessment of threats, Lukyanov told the same radio. “The fact that Americans are ready to receive Russia’s data is positive, but why Russia should share this data and what it will receive in exchange for it is not clear,” he added.

All the proposals about the cooperation “have a good perspective if American and Russian leaders change their minds and they will be able to come to an agreement about who the missile defense system is being planned against,” Lukyanov said.

Despite possible problems, Russia should cooperate with the US in the missile defense sphere too, many analysts believe. Former head of the headquarters of Strategic Missile Forces Viktor Yesin thinks Russia must do it if it wants the US to take Moscow’s interests into consideration.

It is important that the elements of the new US missile system are deployed in regions “where they are not threatening Russia, but are capable at the same time of countering real threats,” Yesin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

One of the main directions of military cooperation is Afghanistan. Many Russian observers note that the US and NATO are interested in Moscow’s financial assistance towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

“Having signed an agreement with Moscow about military transit to Afghanistan, Washington now expects [Russia] to render financial assistance to the fight against the Taliban,” Komsomolskaya Pravda daily said.

However, Vershbow spoke rather about the possibility of Russia contributing “financially to the economic development of Afghanistan.” This assistance could help in depriving the Taliban of their social base, observers say.

Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the US and Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that Moscow may benefit from the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Western military will not only fight in Afghanistan, but also work to strengthen the ruling regime in that country and defend it from the Taliban, he told Komsomolskaya Pravda.

The government in Kabul needs funds to improve the situation, and Moscow, of course, could participate in this,” the analyst said. Stability in Afghanistan is advantageous for Russia, Kremenyuk added.

Russian analysts note that fresh US approaches in foreign affairs may become the real basis for cooperation in the military sphere between Moscow and Washington. “An effective manager has been elected to the highest post in the US, who is probably capable of promoting American interests with the help of ‘soft,’ not brutal force,” co-chairman of the Association of Military Analysts Sergey Melkov said.

The US Defense Ministry is generating new programs of geopolitical influence, strategy and tactics, Melkov wrote on website. “The US is seeking new, if not allies, then actually new partners. The signal for changes is evident.”

Many analysts, however, doubt that Barack Obama will be able to effectively conduct his new foreign policy course which is more close to international realities than previous US policies. He will have to persuade thousands of officials, Congress, society, media and lobbyists, Sergey Samuylov, analyst at the US and Canada Institute, said.

Followers of the “traditionalist US course” may torpedo the ratification of the new treaty on strategic offensive arms, Samuylov wrote on The work on the treaty has not yet been completed.

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev want to get the new document done by December this year, Samuylov noted. The new treaty will be “mainly attacked by Republicans,” more inclined to seek adversaries, the analyst said. They may try to amend the treaty and make negotiators to continue talks, thus derailing the ratification process, he added.

“Such parliamentary tactics were used many times before by opponents of detente with the USSR. They considered the Soviet Union the evil empire,” the analyst said. “Even today despite the the approach to Russia (and China) officially proclaimed by Obama as partner and competitor at the same time, many senators still traditionally consider our country an adversary who should be contained,” he added.

“Russian diplomacy should act carefully, trying to avoid steps in foreign policy which may strengthen positions of American traditionalists,” the analyst said.

Sergey Borisov, RT