Can You Handle the Truth?

Missile defense is on the agenda again, this time at the G8. The United States has just signed a deal with the Czechs, to Russian protests. At The Nixon Center, Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin explained Moscow’s concerns.

There may be some serious trouble ahead. Speaking at a G8 press conference today, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that while Moscow would not "raise any kind of hysterics on the subject," Russian leaders were "very saddened" by the United States taking new steps toward deploying missile defense systems in Central Europe. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement in Prague to station new radars in the Czech Republic not but a day ago.  "Questions of guaranteeing European security should be resolved differently," he added; "Russia will be thinking about answering steps."

Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin explained many of the reasons underlying Medvedev's comments in an extended discussion at The Nixon Center two days earlier. Introduced by Richard Burt, a former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs and U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Rogozin argued that America's missile-defense plans would serve only to raise barriers between Russia, on one hand, and Poland and the Czech Republic, on the other. And although this agreement between the Czechs and the Americans is signed the Ambassador pointed out that Poland had yet to agree to host American interceptor missiles and sought billions of dollars in assistance from the U.S. to upgrade its air defense system. "Against whom?" Rogozin asked. Notwithstanding U.S. and NATO claims, he said, Poland for its part is making clear that it sees missile defense as creating a new security threat from Russia and is demanding American compensation. Thus despite assurances that the anti-missile system is not directed at Russia, Rogozin said, "we feel that we are being deceived," especially because Russia does not believe that the Iranian threat justifies such a system. Even if it did, he argued, Israel would always check Tehran's power-via military strikes, if necessary. Rogozin also expressed surprise that the U.S. would invade Iraq because of concerns over Baghdad's nuclear ambitions only to respond to a similar problem with Iran by deploying missile defense in Central Europe rather than direct military action. Still, while Rogozin argued bluntly that significant hurdles remain, he was hopeful that Russia and the U.S. could develop a meaningful partnership in the future.

Rogozin too shared some admittedly "frank words about the state of affairs today" between the United States and Russia: "We are not enemies . . . but we are not allies or friends either." The reason? In a nutshell, he said, American foreign policy is "excessively ideologized."

To make a broader point about the thrust of U.S. foreign policy, Rogozin brought up what he called the "common pain" of the White House and the Kremlin: Afghanistan. That country, the Ambassador argued, "will always burn" due to the "artificial borders" imposed by the British Empire, which he asserted sought to separate the region's ethnic groups into distinct administrative units to ensure that they could never unite in rebellion. He went so far as to say that elements of this imperial divide-and-conquer strategy are alive and well in American policy today, especially on three issues of major concern to Russia: missile defense, NATO expansion, and the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

On NATO, Rogozin repeatedly stated that expanding the cold-war-era alliance was not in anyone's interest. It would only damage regional security, he said, by creating divisions between Moscow and its "close neighbors" in Eastern Europe. "Insurmountable barriers" would emerge between Russia and Ukraine or Russia and Georgia if Kyiv or Tbilisi joined NATO: these moves "will not bring any stability to our relationship-everything will deteriorate." Later, he stated that U.S. efforts to expand NATO, which came up short at the Bucharest summit, seemed to be designed "to reshape the map of Europe, and in particular Eastern Europe."  Moreover, he said, multiple references to no outside country having a veto over NATO Membership Action Plans for Ukraine and Georgia seem to many in Russia to be a deliberate slap at Moscow.  While Washington and other NATO capitals profess interest in partnership, he continued, the West's actions do not live up to this rhetoric because the U.S. and its allies are essentially telling the Kremlin to keep quiet when it believes Russian interests are affected. According to Rogozin, Russia is not asking for a veto over membership for Ukraine and Georgia, but does feel entitled to express its reservations and to make clear that allowing them to join the alliance would be crossing a "red line" beyond which partnership of any kind would be impossible.

On the last of the three issues, the CFE Treaty, which sets restrictions on the numbers and movement of troops and materiel in Western Europe and Russia, Rogozin argued that the agreement was fundamentally unfair in requiring Russia to seek permission from NATO to redeploy "one tank" within its borders without imposing similar requirements on the U.S. or NATO.  The Ambassador then asked rhetorically whether the United States would be prepared to ask permission to move military units from Kansas to Arkansas.  He proposed to "resolve the deadlock" with the United States by negotiating a new deal more reflective of current geopolitical realities.

Turning to NATO's role in Afghanistan, Rogozin  was critical of the United States for its missteps there-and skeptical that America could succeed with a fraction of the force the USSR had deployed in the 1980s-yet recognized a clear confluence of interest between Moscow and Washington. He pointed out that Russia hoped America would prevail: "If you lose in Afghanistan, then we will face very serious and unpredictable problems. . . . We do not want that."