Thursday’s press review

(AFP photo / Ed Wray)
This Thursday Russian newspapers report on the U.S. plan to cut down nuclear weapons by 80%, note the start of the presidential race in Iran and interview Russian and American defence intellectuals.

KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA writes that while the issue of the elements of the U.S. missile defence system in Eastern Europe is still hanging in the air, pending the results of a feasibility study, Washington has been busy preparing a brand-new offer to Russia: to stand down and destroy 80% of each side’s nuclear weapons. That would leave both nations with approximately 1000 nuclear weapons each, says the paper.

The article also reminds the readers that a new Russia-U.S. strategic assault weapons limitation treaty is due this year, and that in spite of the fact that the American initiative goes beyond the expected conditions of the new treaty, Moscow has already signaled that it is ready to discuss with the U.S. any ideas concerning nuclear weapons reduction.

The paper says that Barack Obama’s initiative is going to draw a lot of flack in Congress, especially from the Republican congressmen who are likely to site Iran’s recent satellite launch and North Korea’s preparations for a launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile as arguments against the proposed weapons reduction.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA writes on the same topic: the new U.S. administration seems to be rapidly dismantling the system of international relations created by George W. Bush. It says that the offer to Russia to reduce nuclear arms by 80%, quoted by the British media, includes, contrary to the usual form of weapons reductions in Russia-U.S. arms limitation treaties, means not only to cut down the strategic weapons but the tactical weapons as well.

The paper says that the White House believes that a significant nuclear arms reduction by the U.S. and Russia would facilitate a firmer stance of the existing nuclear power in the matters of proliferation, especially regarding the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes.

The paper also quotes a comment by Reuters saying that there is a possibility of a ‘new détente’ starting in Russia-U.S. relations and predicts a possible general deal between the two nations that could include cooperation in the fight against the global economic crisis, cooperation on the issues of Iran, Afghanistan, nuclear disarmament, missile defence, conventional weapons and the expansion of NATO. The quoted comment also mentions the differences existing between the U.S. and Russia on many issues that may prevent such a deal from happening.

The paper also quotes Dr. Sergey Rogov, the Director of the Moscow-based Institute of the U.S. and Canada, who says that significant reductions may indeed take place but it is too early to speak of 80% cuts, as arms reduction is a lengthy technological and political process in which every small detail is important. The academic also says that Barack Obama’s idea of a fast nuclear disarmament may reflect the opinion of certain circles in the U.S. who consider the nuclear weapons a liability in the circumstances when the U.S. has undisputed and overwhelming supremacy in non-nuclear strategic weapons.

The same paper follows the beginning of the presidential race in Iran. It says that if the former president Mohammad Khatami decides to contest, that may mean a direct clash between the supporters of totalitarianism and reform. Khatami, says the paper, came to power in 1997 with a programme that included a whole range of reforms, but the second-in-command position prescribed by the Iranian political system for the president didn’t allow him to implement any of these reforms. The paper says in Iran any political decision may be confirmed or condemned by the Ayatollahs who are a ‘government above government’ in Iran.

The paper says if the rural population supports Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as happened in the previous election, that would mean his victory. The paper says the rural folk are much more likely to vote for Ahmadinejad who dresses modestly and creates jobs in the rural areas then for Khatami who holds a score of honorary doctorates from Western universities. The paper adds that his election could be instrumental in the improvement of U.S. relations with Iran and may help the U.S. regain some of the influence it used to have on Iran before the Islamic revolution, and for that reason it is extremely unlikely.

KOMMERSANT says that support for Khatami comes from the reformist-minded Iranians who are getting more and more politically active. Khatami says he has to run in this election, so he can make good on his promises to the people made during his first presidential campaign in 1997. The paper says that his reforms were blocked by the conservative clergy, but Khatami promises to implement them this time, as it can improve the image of Iran in the world and discharge the tense international political atmosphere around the country.

The paper also notes the special support of the spiritual leaders of Iran enjoyed by the current president Ahmadinejad and says that it is very unlikely that he could be defeated by anyone in the coming presidential race.

VREMYA NOVOSTEI publishes two interviews reflecting Russia-U.S. relations seen from two very different angles.

Professor of national security Stephen Blank of the U.S. Army War College says that Russia and the U.S. are so different in their perception of the world and of the modern threats that they can never find enough common ground for fully-fledged cooperation, least of all – strategic partnership. He says that Russia’s system of national security is based on the idea of complete sovereignty, that Russia would simply refuse to delegate part of that sovereignty to anyone – but that is a necessary condition of participation in an alliance, such as, for instance, NATO.

The American academic adds as an example that ‘Russia still publicly says that Iran presents no immediate nuclear threat, and cites that as the reason for its position being totally different from that of the U.S. But simultaneously Russia is trying to use Iran against the U.S. in the Central Asia.’ Blank also calls the U.S. missile defence ‘an American National program’ 40 years in the making, which cannot be stopped by anyone, whatever opinion on the matter the Obama administration may have.

Aleksandr Sharavin, the Director of the Moscow-based Institute of Political and Military Analysis says that the U.S. is probably the only major nation with which Russia has never been at war, and also a nation together with which Russia has fought two world wars as an ally. He says Russia and the U.S. are bound to be allies if they do not want to lose their leadership role in the 21st century.

The Russian academic continues: both Russia and America are facing the same giant threat: the expansion of Communist China which in the future may subdue both our nations, one after another, the U.S. after Russia, to its will – if the two get carried away by their confrontation with each other. Sharavin says all known reasons for Russia-U.S. confrontation are secondary. NATO, he adds as an example, is now too amorphous, and ‘there is no problem about Ukraine and Georgia entering – provided that Russia enters first.’

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT