The recent statements by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian President’s Special Representative for Missile Defense Cooperation with NATO, raised hackles in Washington. Putin called the U.S. a “parasite” on the body of global economy, while Rogozin claimed that U.S. Senators told him U.S. missile defense is aimed at his country. Putin’s statements are baffling, as the global economy needs consumer consumption for growth—and the United States is by far the biggest consumer country. In fact, the U.S. trade deficit drives a lot of global growth.
Putin spoke at his United Russia Party youth camp on Lake Seliger, while Rogozin let his hair down on a visit to Washington after a meeting with two U.S. Senators. These are no longer words alone: Russia is also threatening to stop cooperating with the U.S. over Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, and North Korea, if Congress passes the Sergei Magnitsky sanctions. The toughening Russian negotiating positions and rhetoric—including Putin’s outburst and Rogozin’s calling two U.S. Senators “monsters of the Cold War”—suggest the Obama “reset” policy is failing and needs reassessment.
Last month, Rogozin requested a meeting with Senators Jon Kyl (R–AZ) and Mark Kirk (R–IL). The two sides provided diametrically opposed narratives after the spat. Rogozin was accompanied by Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador and arms control expert; Colonel Anatoly Belinsky, acting Russian military representative to NATO; and Vladimir Leontyev, deputy director of the Department of Security Affairs and Disarmament of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The meeting did not go well and prompted Rogozin to state:
Today, I had the impression that I was transported in a time machine back several decades, and in front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War, who looked at me not through pupils, but targeting sights.
Moreover, Rogozin charged that the Senators claimed that the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), President Obama’s ballistic missile defense plan for the protection of NATO allies and the U.S. homeland, is directed against Russia.
Not so, say senior sources present at the meeting, who told me:
Senator Kyl never said that the missile defense is aimed at Russia, neither did Senator Kirk. The two sides were unable to agree on the definition of the threat from Iran. So, Senator Kyl said that if there is no common definition of a threat, what is the sense of talking about cooperation on missile defense.
This is a far cry from declaring that missile defenses are aimed at Russia. Besides, U.S. defenses cannot hit the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces deployed hundreds of miles east of the proposed locations in Romania and Poland. The minimal number of proposed U.S. interceptors cannot significantly reduce the horrible power of a Russian strategic nuclear strike.
Rogozin also raised the issue of legally binding “reliable assurances” that a NATO system does not pose a threat to Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces.
However, Senator Kyl noted that Russia is not willing to provide equally binding assurances that its ICBMs are not aimed at the U.S. In fact, the only targets Russia can hit with its hundreds of heavily protected and mobile ICBMs are in North America. All others are much closer and can be targeted with the type of intermediate-range ballistic missiles the USSR and the U.S. gave up under Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. The real assurances of Russia’s peaceful intentions would be the total destruction of such ICBMs, which is unrealistic.
Furthermore, Rogozin asked that Russia and U.S. operate two regional missile defense systems—with full Russian access to U.S. early warning data and other sensitive information including U.S. system architecture. “What they can’t get through espionage, they want to get through a [missile defense] agreement,” the official present at the meeting told me. And Russia wants the U.S. to agree not to shoot down any missiles over Russian territory.
This is an untenable demand. When a missile is in the air, the United States should not be restrained from intercepting it just because it is launched over Russian territory. Just as it did during the Cold War, Moscow is seeking ways to limit U.S. missile defenses.
The lack of agreement on the Iranian threat is particularly disconcerting. Despite the latest round of U.N. sanctions, supported by Russia, Iran is stepping up its centrifuge development work and progressing steadily with uranium enrichment. In addition, Tehran supports terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Iranian missiles are already within the reach of Europe (including Moscow) and might be able to target the U.S. by 2015. While Rogozin admitted that “there is a growing threat from the south [of Russia],” he refused to admit that Iran is the culprit.
It has been over two years since the United States launched the “reset” policy. Where is it heading in view of Russian rhetoric and threats? President Obama called the “reset” his “great achievement” only days after Putin’s “parasite” outburst. Maybe he was encouraged by Russia’s issuing a series of postage stamps to commemorate his 50th birthday.
If history is any guide: The United States tried a policy of détente with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, culminating in the kiss between President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev at the SALT II Treaty signing in Vienna, Austria. The U.S. reward for its more “constructive” stance, however, was the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.
U.S. policymakers should reassess the “reset” and develop strategies that counter Russia’s global anti-American agenda—not focus on phantom “advancements” in bilateral relations.