Last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia would deploy short-range missiles and possibly withdraw from the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) if the United States moves forward with its plans for a missile-defense system in Europe. Russian threats are yet another indicator that the “reset” in relations between Moscow and Washington is on its last leg.
Medvedev ordered the Russian military commanders to prepare for deployment of nuclear-capable Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad on the Polish and Lithuanian borders, the southern region of Krasnodar, and possibly Belarus in order to secure the ability “to take out any part of the US missile defense system in Europe.” Other Russian experts went further, arguing that Russia should target missile defense radars, which put its air force at a disadvantage.
This is not the first time the Russians have threatened these deployments in retaliation for the U.S. missile defense plans while demonstrating that their Cold War strategic thinking barely moved beyond 1984. Back then, the dying Soviet leader Yuri Andropov believed that Ronald Reagan was about to attack the USSR.
Washington repeatedly stated that the U.S. missile defense system is not intended against Russia but rather against rogue states like Iran or North Korea. Russian missile experts admitted as much in public conferences. Despite that, the Russians continue to engage in Cold War–style hysteria about the danger of the system to Russian national security interests.
In other words, Russia is interested in keeping Europe and America vulnerable to rogues’ growing ballistic missile threat, since any limitations on the U.S. system would mean lowered efficiency against North Korean and Iranian missiles. Such attitudes tend to create a déjà vu, returning U.S.–Russian relations back on the rusty Cold War tracks. These tensions are likely to continue to be whipped up during the Russian presidential election period, which is to end on March 4, 2012.
Additionally, the “Trojan horse” preamble to New START, about which The Heritage Foundation previously warned, is finally rearing its ugly head. The Russians are using the preamble’s link between offensive and defensive systems to threaten to pull out of New START unilaterally. It may sound like a bluff, since the treaty is ultimately in Russia’s best interests, because it requires unilateral (U.S.) reductions, while Moscow can build up its strategic forces under New START. Yet the threats highlight the failure of President Obama’s “reset” to achieve any meaningful gains and the perverse nature of U.S.-strategic diplomatic relations, which have been poisoned by xenophobia and paranoia.
Everything comes down to the Russian leaders’ unwillingness to give up the Cold War mindset and its leaders’ lack of desire to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic security universe. Moreover, Russia cannot fully contribute to the missile defense project due to lack of technological capabilities, nor can it be trusted with sharing information about missile defense capabilities in a transparent manner in view of its close security ties with China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and other “states of concern.”
When the Obama Administration came up with multiple options for cooperation, Moscow demanded written guarantees that the European missile defense system would not be aimed at Russia and chose an open confrontation instead. The Kremlin accuses the United States of neglecting its security concerns while rejecting U.S. proposals and offering no viable alternatives or concessions. It would be curious to see how Moscow would react if Washington, in a similar vein, demanded written guarantees that its own 1,500 strategic warheads not be aimed at the U.S. and its allies.
Finally, the highly ephemeral nature of the “reset” policy is here for all to see. It is time for the Obama Administration to admit “reset” failure and in the remaining time in office start working with Republicans in Congress to come up with a bipartisan policy toward Russia that takes American national interests into account.