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18 Sep, 2009 15:21

US-Russia thorn removed – but will there be another one?

One of the main sticking points for Russia appears to have been resolved, as the US is suspending its plans for a missile defense shield in Europe. But could another one emerge, considering the renewed US security plan?

Under the reviewed proposal, the US will use facilities on land and sea to combat the threat from short- and medium-range missiles.

As the White House and the Kremlin have been looking to the next stage in healing relations, Russia has welcomed the move and is pledging to cooperate with Washington on its scaled-down plan. Moscow has repeatedly stressed that this has to be a joint effort by Russia and the US to counter the potential threat of ballistic missile attacks.

The Obama administration said that the decision to change their plans on missile defense is not about making concessions to Russia or asking for concessions in return: it is based on the reassessment of security threats coming from Iran. This review was something that Russia has been calling on for years.

The White House has said that the Iranian nuclear program is progressing too slowly to pose an immediate threat, also saying that Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles are of more concern at the moment. The new US security plan is supposed to be better tailored in terms of these new threats.

Review of missiles plan has positive implications – Putin

The latest decision by President Obama, who cancelled plans to build a third missile launch site in Europe, has positive implications, according to Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was speaking at the Investment Forum in the Russia’s southern city of Sochi on Friday.

“I very much hope that this very right and brave decision will be followed by others,” he noted.

In particular, Moscow expects “the lifting of all restrictions on cooperation with Russia and sharing high technologies with Russia and more intensive efforts to increase the number of WTO members by including Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan,” the prime minister said.

New US Security: better for Russia – or twice as bad?

What was initially seen as the scrapping of its defense shield, the US is instead restructuring the plan.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the country plans to start with deploying interceptors capable of attacking short-range missiles on ships. It is possible that later some land-based ones will be set. Gates said that negotiations regarding that with the Czech Republic and Poland are underway.

Poland and the Czech Republic in the future will remain the main candidates to host elements of the missile defense shield on their soil, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday. Once again she stressed what the White House has been insisting on: the only purpose of creating the shield is protection from a missile threat coming from Iran and it’s not aimed against Russia.

The new system will be more efficient, modern, and cheap, she said.

Russia has already voiced some concerns over the new plan.

“Instead of building a fixed radar in the Czech Republic and stationing missiles in Poland, there will be a new system of defense based on mobile components,” said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO.

“They won’t require a special foundation or any major construction. I believe we can say that the new system will have missiles placed on military naval vessels, which is not very good for Russia, because military ships can be in one location one day, and near St. Petersburg the next.”

However, Rogozin noted that it is a very big step away from the offensive plans of the Bush administration.

“So I think what we’ve heard by now from Mr. Gates is just a military view on the matter. And now we are waiting to hear a political point of view. We are expecting it in the next few days during the meeting of presidents Obama and Medvedev in New York at the General Assembly.”

Russia’s envoy to NATO said that, as Russia learns more about the political motives of the current US administration, he hopes that the sides will come to an agreement.

Looking back: Bush’s legacy

Since first taking office George W. Bush made deploying a missile defense shield one of his top priorities.

Washington cited a potential missile threat from so-called “rogue states” like Iran as a reason for the buildup. The US plan included creating a radar base in the Czech Republic and an interceptor site in Poland.

But what became known as the “Son of Star Wars” turned into a major roadblock in relations between Russia and the US.

“We’ve made a point to our Russian colleagues that we are facing threats from Iran that continues to pursue missiles of ever increasing range, and we must be in a position to respond,” said Condoleezza Rice, then-US Secretary of State, speaking in Prague in early July last year.

Russia insisted that moving US military hardware closer to its borders would jeopardize its security.

Moscow argued that the would-be threats were exaggerated and warned that the US was in danger of starting a new arms race.

“This is not just any defense system. This missile defense shield is part of the US strategic nuclear deterrent,” then-president of Russia Vladimir Putin said back in spring 2007 during his visit to the Czech Republic.

“This means a dramatic change in the security system in Europe. There’ll be no hysteria in Russia over any deployments, but we will take appropriate measures.”

Washington’s plan stoked public anger in the Czech Republic and in Poland, with mass demonstrations and anti-war movements springing up.

Despite the growing discontent, the Czech and Polish governments signed deals in 2008 to host American missile bases on their soil.

Military observers also doubted the system’s effectiveness, saying its security capacity was questionable – and that its mammoth costs were undeniable.

“The anti-missile shield is almost a perfect example of how the defense industry milks the American state,” said John Laughland from the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation.”

“It’s a system which they’ve been talking about now for at least thirty years and one which, I think a lot of people believe, would never work. It will suck in millions of billions of dollars,” he added.

Soon after entering office, President Obama ordered a review of the controversial plan.

The US leader made improving ties with Russia one of his key foreign policy goals. And with one of the biggest diplomatic thorns now removed, the White House and the Kremlin are looking forward to the next stage in healing relations.

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