U.S.-Russia: Rising Tensions

This past weekend U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Russia in an attempt to diminish tensions between Washington and Moscow with regard to missile defense and arms control. During this visit, Putin warned the U.S. to drop their plans to install a missile defense system in Poland and Czech Republic,former Soviet territories now part of N.A.T.O., or they would risk further harming relations with Moscow.  

“We might decide some day to set up a missile defense system on the moon, but until then, the opportunity for an agreement might be lost while you are realizing your own plans,” Putin said. As a deterrent factor, Putin warned the U.S. that Russia might withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987 by the United States and the Soviet Union aiming at banning the deployment of nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilomteres. It would especially take this measure if the pact is not applied to countries near Russia’s borders. 

Later Rice and Gates met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. Lavrov said that Russia would take measures to neutralize the missile defense system threat, and Serdyukov declared that the plans of the United States contained “a strong anti-Russian sentiment.” Although the U.S. has asserted the the missile system would be used to provide protection from “rogue states” and Iran in particular, Moscow believes that the system could lose its deterrent meaning and develop into an offensive system. 

These talks have not resulted with any agreement by both superpowers; it just reassured that both sides will meet again to attempt to solve the issue. 

Since this past weekend’s failed negotiations, both sides have publicly criticized each other on somehow related but not directly related issues. 

Indeed the first criticism came from the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov on Saturday. Lavrov expressed his concern over Japanese-U.S. missile defense system plan. He declared that this is an effort to preserve military superiority and that the system could be directed against Russia and China. This plan was enacted after North Korea launched missiled and performed a nuclear test last year. It is therefore expressed by Washington that the plan aims at stopping possible missiles launches from North Korea and also Iran. Russia sees it as a threat to its own missile capabilities. 

About one day later, Rice expressed her concerns over Russia’s military build-up. “I think the rapid growth in Russian military spending definitely bears watching. And frankly, some of the efforts – for instance, Bear flights, in areas that we haven’t seen for a while – are not helpful for security,” she said. Russia’s military spending is planned to be $36.8 billion by 2008. Rice also stated that the U.S. does not have an adversorial relationship with Russia, and that she would certainly hope that Russian military activities and spending reflects it. While Rice criticizes Russia over expenditure, it is important to note that the U.S. Senate approved the 2008 defense bill of $648.8 billion in October. 

The statements of both Lavrov and Rice were certainly not a coincidence as they followed the failed talks of Friday. Although Rice was committed not to criticize Russia during the talks on Friday, she expressed her concerns two days later. It seems like both sides are adressing the international community and trying to downplay the other. These back and forth criticisms are without a doubt raising some eyebrows now: are we getting closer to a small neo-Cold War or are these criticisms the result of freshly failed negotiations aiming at blaming the ‘other’ for its failure?



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