Russia rejects Washington’s AMD proposal

The proposed US Anti-Missile Defense shield in Europe has taken a surprise twist this week. An invitation by Washington for Moscow to get involved in the project was swiftly rebuffed.

However, talks on nuclear arms control still continue.

When Obama came to office, Moscow too, like the US people, hoped for a change – a change in US plans to site its missile shield in Europe.

On June 9, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates came up with a sensational proposal:

“We've made a number of offers in terms of how to partner, and I think there are still some opportunities – for example, perhaps putting radars in Russia, having data exchange centers in Russia. And so I think the administration is very interested in continuing to pursue this prospect with the Russians. And it may be that our chances are somewhat improved for making progress.”

Moscow has fiercely opposed the US plans to deploy its AMD in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Washington says is aimed against potential threats from Iran or North Korea. Russia has maintained the system undermines its own security, but according to Gates the Russian officials might have come to accept the American view.

Some analysts were quick to call the offer “a breakthrough”. In Moscow they labeled it “day-dreaming”.

“A meaningful dialogue on cooperation in responding to potential missile risks can only start after the US renounces its plans to create what is known as the third site of the strategic missile defense system,”Andrey Nesterenko, Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman said.

Offers by Moscow to jointly use a Russian radar base were turned down by President Bush. The new administration in Washington is not abandoning the initial plan; instead it's merely adding Russia to the package.

“I think you’ll agree that we cannot be partners in creating installations which, essentially, will work against Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Nobody does things to his own detriment,” Nesterenko said.

However, Moscow and Washington are still trying to make headway in some areas of defense. The two are currently in a hustle to draft a new treaty to reduce nuclear arms (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) before Obama visits Moscow.

More than 20 years ago Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev started the whole process of arms reduction. With a new START treaty in the works the sides are into political bargaining. The question is what are they ready to barter?

On June 9, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, speaking after a meeting in Moscow with the German Foreign Minister and Federal Vice-Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier said:

“Why do we need nuclear weapons? Was it Russia who invented them? Have we ever used them? If those who have used them are ready to say no, along with other states possessing nuclear bombs whether official or not – that’s my hope. Of course we will do our best to encourage and comply with that process.”

Despite the remaining tensions, many see the talks as a good sign. After all, for the first time in the post-Cold War era the sides are negotiating cutting nukes.

“The ghost of the potential for a new Cold War has been expelled. Obama is determined to bring common ground, not contradictions to the foreground of relations with Russia,” Steinmeier said.

With plenty of issues complicating the talks it will take extraordinary determination from both sides to make a difference.