Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Alexander Golts exposes the fundamental contradiction inherent in Vladimir Putin’s alternative missile defense system proposal:
Imagine a situation in which a good acquaintance — but not a close friend — suggests that you start a joint venture that requires you to invest all of your savings. If you hesitate, he whips out a revolver and threatens to shoot your close relatives. This is how Russia’s most recent suggestion for cooperation with the United States on a joint anti-ballistic missile defense system comes across.
For months now, Russian defense officials have tirelessly reiterated how decisively and “asymmetrically” Moscow would respond to the U.S. plan to place elements of its anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic. The generals threatened to deploy a mystery warhead, which supposedly has the capability of eliminating enemy anti-missile systems with amazing efficiency. They also threatened to re-target Russian rockets at European capitals, as they did in the 1980s.
During his recent meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, however, President Vladimir Putin has now put forward a “peaceful initiative” — a term the Soviet leaders notoriously used for initiatives they had no intention of fulfilling. Putin offered the United States to share the aging Russian early warning radar system in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the possibility of building a new joint warning station near Armavir in southern Russia. The Russian president also recalled a bilateral agreement signed in 1998, which promised to develop a joint center in Moscow to share information on rocket launches. Putin is suggesting that the two countries create these types of joint operations facilities in both Moscow as well as Brussels, the headquarters of NATO.
First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov wasted no time in clarifying that a global anti-missile system involving Russia, the United States and European nations could be created as soon as 2020. Ivanov explained in a recent interview that Russia would contribute its anti-missile early warning technology to the global system. In return, the United States would provide its Aegis sea-based combat system. This would mean that Aegis-equipped U.S. ships would have to be stationed much closer to regions representing potential missile threats.
There is no denying that such a joint system — were it to be developed — would have a major impact on the nature of U.S.-Russian relations. Not only would U.S. ships be permanently positioned near Russia’s shores, but both partners would have access to each other’s super-sensitive technologies.
But the main point is that if the United States were to accept the Russian offer, it would have to entirely reject its present strategy of intercepting enemy warheads in space using missiles with a range of more than 2000 kilometers. In addition, the joint project would mean that the billions of dollars that the United States has already spent on its unilateral anti-missile system would be for naught.
The other problematic aspect of Russia’s proposal is that it would require an unusually high level of trust in each other to make this new relationship work.
And Russia has done everything in its power to undermine this trust. A case in point: Ivanov has promised that if the United States does not cancel its plans to place a radar in the Czech Republic and elements of anti-missile batteries in Poland, Russia will deploy Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad aimed at U.S. installations in Europe. If Russia deploys these weapons, it will violate the terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. This in turn could lead to a new stand-off with Europe.
On the surface, Moscow has offered to create a joint global anti-missile system that would significantly improve U.S.-Russian relations. But Moscow has threatened a new military stand-off if Washington refuses its proposal and if it develops its anti-missile system in Europe. Thus, Moscow has proposed an absolutely meaningless and unrealistic initiative that will only distract and irritate Washington at a time when the Kremlin is frantically looking for U.S. support for Putin’s successor.