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Why Prime Minister Putin may be throwing a wrench in US-Russia arms talks

Russia Prime Minister Putin said there were problems with arms talks aimed at finalizing a new strategic arms reduction deal. Is it a hardball tactic or a bid to derail the negotiations altogether?

By Correspondent / December 30, 2009

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chairs a Cabinet meeting in Moscow, Wednesday.

Alexei Druzhinin/RIA-Novosti/AP

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Moscow

Russia's powerful prime minister, ex-President Vladimir Putin, may have just tossed a wrench into the sensitive last-minute negotiations aimed at finalizing a new US-Russian strategic arms reduction deal early in the New Year.

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 "The problem is that our American partners are developing missile defenses, and we are not," Mr. Putin complained Tuesday. "In order to maintain balance, without developing the antimissile system just like the US is doing, we have to develop an offensive combat power system."

 Some analysts say Putin, whose brief as prime minister does not include strategic policy, may be simply engaging in a bit of hardball negotiation aimed at securing fresh American concessions as talks for new treaty to reduce offensive nuclear arms wind down to an expected January finish line.

 "When Putin steps forward and says there are problems with the negotiations, this conveys a message to the Americans that a major Russian political figure has doubts," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow.

 "Indeed, there's been a lot of talk about 'resetting relations' between Russia and the US, but here we are at the end of the year and there are still no concrete achievements. It's something to think about," Mr. Kremeniuk says.

 But others suggest Putin may be trying to derail the negotiations altogether.

 "Our prime minister is moving those talks to total deadlock," says Alexander Golts, military expert with the online newsmagazine Yezhednevny Zhurnal. "Putin is also violating an agreement made by both sides not to reveal details of the negotiations."

 Putin's demand is that the US should provide full data on any antimissile tests it conducts, or else Russia will withhold information about its tests of new offensive weapon systems.

 "There is almost no chance the Americans will agree to this," says Mr. Golts.

 In a statement, the State Department acknowledged that Russia has legitimate concerns about US antimissile plans -- Mr. Obama said as much
 during a July summit with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow -- but added that the current arms talks are not the appropriate vehicle for addressing those issues. "We have agreed to continue to discuss the topic of missile defense with Russia in a separate venue," the statement said.

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