US Russia nuclear deal worries some in Moscow
A US Russia nuclear deal on reducing their arsenals has received global praise. But some in Russia worry that President Medvedev may have allowed too much leeway for the US to develop missile defense systems.
A sweeping new bargain to slash the offensive nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US – what they used to call the "balance of terror" – appears almost ready for Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama to sign.Skip to next paragraph
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Unofficial sources say the signing may take place as early as April 8, in Prague, Czech Republic, the venerable eastern European capital in which Mr. Obama launched his campaign for a nuclear weapons-free world just one year ago.
Experts say the new agreement, designed to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, will reduce strategic nuclear warheads by one-quarter, to around 1,600 on each side, and halve the number of delivery vehicles – missiles, bombers, and submarines – to 800 for each country.
The US currently has deployed around 2,150 strategic nuclear weapons; Russia reportedly maintains about 2,600. Both sides have thousands more in storage or awaiting dismantlement under previous arms control deals.
"We cannot help but be pleased with this, because it finally removes headaches that should have been dealt with long ago," says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma's foreign affairs commission. "It's very important to have this deal, because it enables us to move forward in a number of ways, and it sets an example for other countries."
It's a crucial victory for the Nobel Prize-winning Obama, who can use some dramatic results to brandish as he heads into a 40-nation nuclear security summit due to open in Washington on April 12. It may also be seen in Russia as a political win for Mr. Medvedev, who needs some solid achievements to step out of the shadow of the powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, in the runup to 2012 presidential elections.
But Russia's foreign policy community appears far more divided over the usefulness of the new START accord for Russia's long-term security, and some wonder what compromises the Kremlin might have made on Russia's insistence that a strong mechanism be embedded in the text to link the need for controls on defensive antimissile weapons with the treaty's cuts to offensive arsenals.
"It's always wonderful to see friendly handshakes all around," says Pyotr Romanov, an expert with the official RIA-Novosti news agency. "But for those of us who remember the late cold-war era, when (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev made concessions to meet American interests, in order to break the ice, there's a wait-and-see feeling about this."
Moscow is deeply suspicious and fearful of a potential US technological breakthrough on missile defense, which could undermine or even negate Russia's aging Soviet-era strategic nuclear deterrent. Russian security experts fondly recall that cold war-era arms control began with the 1972 framing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which curtailed further work on defensive weapons. The logic of follow-on SALT and START agreements was based on the certainty that neither side could defend itself from a nuclear attack, and therefore had no option but to negotiate controls on offensive weapons.