Russia takes harder line in missile row with US
Putin warns of 'mutual destruction' risk after saying the Kremlin would suspend its compliance with NATO arms treaty.
Rhetoric that recalls cold war tensions has intensified after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country would suspend compliance in an arms treaty in response to US plans to build a missile defense shield in some Eastern European countries.
The Washington Post reports that in a speech to parliament Thursday, President Putin tied a US plan to install radar and interceptor missiles to Russia's decision to suspend its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE).
The CFE Treaty dates from the last days of the Cold War and limits the deployment of conventional arms, including tanks and other heavy weapons, on either side of the old Iron Curtain. Putin linked his decision, which he said could lead to full withdrawal from the treaty, to the U.S. missile plan.
NATO countries are "building up military bases on our borders and, more than that, they are also planning to station elements of anti-missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic," said Putin, delivering his annual state of the nation address to both houses of parliament, the cabinet and regional leaders. "In this connection, I consider it expedient to declare a moratorium on Russia's implementation of this treaty."
The New York Times reports that in response to Putin's announcement, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly rejected the notion that Russia should feel threatened by the missile shield, which the US contends is being built to counter potential threats from Iran and North Korea.
"The idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten the Soviet strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous, and everybody knows it," Ms. Rice said, slipping inadvertently into cold war terminology with her reference to the Soviet Union.
However, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reports that Putin on Friday challenged the intentions of the missile defense system, saying it "is not just a defence system, but part of the American system of nuclear armaments" and that, because of the shield, "the threat of mutual damage, and maybe even destruction grows many times." The BBC writes that Putin's remarks were reminiscent of the language of the Cold War, when "mutually assured destruction" was what kept the US and Russia from nuclear war.
RIA Novosti reports that Putin also rejected the reasoning behind the missile shield, saying that neither Iran or North Korea have missiles capabale of reaching Europe or the United States, and that "they will not appear any time soon."
"This talk about defense against terrorists is simply ridiculous," Putin said. "Terrorists use other methods, and the terrorist threat should be countered by cooperation rather than confrontation," the Russian leader said.
Putin also said that "there will be no hysteria" over the missile shield, but that Russia "will take appropriate measures."
The Associated Press writes that Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov "added to the fire in a lengthy diatribe that recalled the language of the Cold War" by accusing the US and NATO of upsetting the security balance in Europe, and saying that "they are still looking for an enemy."
The New York Times reports that Mr. Lavrov did not elaborate on Russia's future intentions, saying only "Everything will be in moratorium" and "It is clear, is it not?"
Mr. Lavrov's hard-line position in public was preceded by what one senior American official described as a "riveting" session with NATO diplomats in private. In an intense 10-minute monologue, he presented a list of grievances about NATO and its role in the world, from its enlarged membership to the missile defense system.
The officials said Mr. Lavrov's tone prompted stern responses from several NATO members. "The push-back was universal," the official said, "including some countries that have been reserved about missile defense. It did not have the effect that he may have anticipated."
The back-and-forth underscored the intensity and breadth of the dispute, and the degree to which the two sides have parted.