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04.06.2007 Europe

New era of discord for Russia and West

By BBC News website
Putin wants to apply pressure to US anti-missile plansPutin wants to apply pressure to US anti-missile plans

President Vladimir Putin's threat to target missiles at Europe indicates that the hostility between Russia and the West is more than a passing phase. It has become a permanent part of world diplomacy.

Russian missiles have not been targeted on European countries for many years. Mr Putin blamed the US plan to develop an anti-missile system in eastern Europe.

Targeting missiles indicates a worsening state of relations. It is more of a political than a military move, since a non-targeted missile remains a threat in any cash.

To keep matters in proportion, it is important to note that Mr Putin was not suggesting a return to the wholesale targeting of Europe by the Soviet Union. He hinted that any "new targets" would be connected to the "strategic nuclear potential of the United States...in Europe".

Uneasiness

Mr Putin clearly wants to apply pressure so that the US proposal, which needs the approval of the Polish and Czech governments, is not implemented.

He disregarded US assurances that the system was too small to affect Russian defences and was aimed at countering potential threats from Iran and North Korea.

It is an era of self-interest, with both sides following and promoting their own agendas, which may or may not coincide or clash

And he appeared to contradict what he himself said in January 2006, when he announced that Russia had a new ballistic missile. "These missiles don't represent a response to a missile defence system," he said at the time.

So his threats have to be put in a wider context.

"A new Cold War" and similar descriptions do not catch the reality of this new and antagonistic relationship. It is possibly a long-term one, based less on the ideology of the Cold War confrontation and more on a big power uneasiness that each side might just have to live with.

It is an era of self-interest, with both sides following and promoting their own agendas, which may or may not coincide or clash.

Indeed, analysts are beginning to discount the current leadership on both sides as incapable of much change and to look ahead to see what might develop after President Putin stands down next spring and President George W Bush at the start of 2009.

G8 and Maine

The G8 meeting this week, and the probably more important bilateral meeting at the Bush family encampment at Kennebunkport in Maine in early July, might not make much difference.

The Maine invitation is at least a gesture by Mr Bush. He has not invited any other foreign leader there. But the fact that he has chosen (with a hint from his father maybe?) the family's inner sanctum shows how bad things have become.

"I very much doubt if the meeting in Maine will produce much," said Margot Light, a Russia watcher at the London School of Economics.

"I don't see a meeting of minds, though Mr Putin likes the idea of Russia being courted and is pleased to go. He argues that Russia is a great power and has to be taken into account.

"However, Bush will not change his mind about anti-missile deployment in eastern Europe and nothing short of that will persuade Putin to relent.

"Putin likened it to scratching your left ear with your right hand. It re-invokes the psychosis of encirclement felt by the Soviet Union after the war. Russia is incensed that its words and interests are being disregarded. That said, it is milking the issue for all it is worth."

The Putin approach

The current problems are partly to do with the legacy of the Yeltsin years, which Mr Putin felt he had to erase by taking a firm, nationalistic line. This of course coincided with the neo-conservative line being taken by the Bush administration.

Russia should keep in mind the adage that 'two wrongs don't make a right' when formulating its responses to the US anti-missile plan
Wade Boese,
Arms Control Association

Washington has gone ahead perhaps too confidently with its plans, assuming that the Russians are now on board.

The key example here is the US withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2001. This has led directly to the US proposals for the deployment of the missile defence system in the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland.

The Russians, however, are not on board.

And their dissatisfaction goes beyond missile defence. They are threatening not to fulfil their commitments under the conventional forces treaty (CFE) in Europe and the intermediate range nuclear weapons treaty (INF) with the US.

However, according to the independent pressure group, the Arms Control Association (ACA) in Washington, this could be the ground on which the two could come closer together.

The Americans, it suggests, should put the European anti-missile system on hold and engage with Moscow "to reassess and re-energise efforts to help transform their strategic relations from competition to cooperation, in part, by adopting a more ambitious arms control agenda".

Russia should offer a more positive approach itself. ACA research director Wade Boese said: "Russia should keep in mind the adage that 'two wrongs don't make a right' when formulating its responses to the US anti-missile plan.
"Russia should remain party to, and fully implement, the INF and CFE treaties, including commitments to withdraw militarily from Georgia and Moldova."

One way forward, the ACA suggests, is for negotiations to start on a follow up to the 2002 strategic agreement under which deployed nuclear warheads on each side will be reduced to 2,200 by 2012.

This is also something that might have to wait until the post Bush-Putin era.

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website
[email protected]

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