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Obama, Medvedev sign START treaty on nuclear weapons, but Russia is uneasy

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the START treaty on nuclear weapons today. While both hailed the missile reduction pact as a landmark, Russia is uneasy about its strategic future.

By Correspondent / April 8, 2010

US President Barack Obama, left, and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev sign the newly completed 'New START' treaty reducing long-range nuclear weapons at the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic Thursday.

Mikhail Metzel/AP



Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev flourished their pens and signed the START nuclear missile reduction treaty in Prague today. The deal was a year in the making and represents the first major strategic accord between the former superpowers since the end of the cold war.

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It was a warm and smile-filled "kumbaya" moment for the US and Russia, whose relationship has seen some stomach-churning ups and downs in recent years. President Obama hailed the agreement as an "important milestone for nuclear security and nonproliferation and for US-Russia relations."

But the gloomy signals coming out of Moscow this week suggest that the Russians harbor serious doubts about the viability of the treaty they just signed and even deeper misgivings about Barack Obama's changes to US nuclear weapons doctrine that are ostensibly aimed at moving toward a nuclear weapons-free world.

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"We are seeing, in sharp relief, that the US and Russia view the strategic landscape through completely different lenses," says Dmitry Suslov, an expert with the Council on Foreign and Defense Policies, a Moscow think tank whose members include top Kremlin advisers. "Moscow is laying down the message that this new treaty is fine, but we should not interpret this as a new era in relations. The strategic picture is changing in ways that Russia is not completely comfortable with, and we need to keep our options open."

In a wide-ranging press conference Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shocked many by warning that Russia might pull out of the treaty if US plans to station strategic anti-missile interceptors in Europe, which were suspended by Mr. Obama last year, are revived during the 10-year life of the START agreement.

"If and when our monitoring of how those plans are implemented shows they are entering a stage of creating strategic missile defense systems ... we will have the right to resort to [withdrawal] provisions provided in this treaty," Mr. Lavrov said.