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Russia exasperated with US over missile defense

A top Russian defense official today signaled growing frustration with the US, which has refused to provide legal guarantees that a planned missile-defense shield is not directed at Moscow.

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There was a flurry of excitement earlier this month, when US news reports suggested that Washington might be willing to share sensitive technical information about the SM-3 interceptor rocket that's expected to be the mainstay of NATO's missile shield by 2020. Such information, the Russians say, might provide a material demonstration that these weapons are really meant for use only against Iran and other so-called "rogue states" and would not be used to undermine Russia's own nuclear deterrent.

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But that hope appears to have collapsed. The Moscow daily Kommersant reported last week that a visit by US State Department Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense Ellen Tauscher included handover of a package of missile-defense information that Russian military specialists evaluated as "[expletive] useless."

State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland later declined to comment, saying, "I’m not going to go into the specifics of the discussions" Ms. Tauscher had with the Russians. "I’ll just say that we are committed to pursuing missile-defense cooperation with Russia and are continuing discussions."

Room for cooperation

Much of this might be jockeying for position in advance of an expected meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin, which Russian news reports suggest could take place on the sidelines of the G8 summit in mid-May, shortly after Putin has been inaugurated for his third term as president of Russia.

There have been some positive developments lately, which suggest Putin may be turning away from his anti-Western election rhetoric toward greater cooperation, including an unprecedented Russian offer last week to give NATO use of a Volga region airbase to sustain resupply efforts to its embattled forces in Afghanistan.

"There are things the Americans could do to convince us that they're serious about bringing us on board," says Sergei Markov, a political expert with close ties to the Kremlin. "First, they could move the focus of the anti-missile system from northern to southern Europe, which is where the threat is supposed to be. Second, they could take serious steps to develop an anti-missile shield with us jointly...

"We understand that Obama probably can't take any major decisions before the elections. People in Moscow are optimistic that in the long run, Washington will behave rationally about this, and realize that it's not worth alienating Russia over this," he adds. "There are a lot of areas where we can develop cooperation, and we'd like to get to them, but Russia will never accept a situation where our nuclear deterrent is undermined."

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