Russian Reset a Cold War Restart

Some in Moscow are calling U.S. senators "monsters" and accusing America of targeting missile defense at Russia.  Obama can consider his policy a failure. 

Recent statements by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian president's Special Representative for Missile-Defense Cooperation with NATO, raised hackles in Washington. Putin called the United States a “parasite” on the global economy, while Rogozin claimed that U.S. senators told him our missile defense is aimed at his country.

Putin was speaking at his United Russia Party youth camp on Lake Seliger, while Rogozin let his hair down during a visit to Washington. Their words were not uttered in a vacuum. Russia has also threatened to stop cooperating with the United States over Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, and North Korea, if Congress passes the Sergei Magnitsky sanctions. (Already the State Department has placed some 64 Russian officials affiliated with the death of the famous whistle-blower while in prison on a visa blacklist.)

The toughening Russian negotiating positions and rhetoric—including Putin’s outburst and Rogozin’s calling two U.S. senators “monsters of the Cold War”—suggest the Obama “reset” policy is failing and needs reassessment.

Last month, Rogozin requested a meeting with Senators Jon Kyl (R–Ariz.) and Mark Kirk (R–Ill.). Rogozin was accompanied by Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador and arms-control expert; Colonel Anatoly Belinsky, acting Russian military representative to NATO; and Vladimir Leontyev, deputy director of the Department of Security Affairs and Disarmament of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The meeting did not go well, and the two sides provided diametrically opposed accounts of what went down. Rogozin stated:

Today, I had the impression that I was transported in a time machine back several decades, and in front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War, who looked at me not through pupils, but targeting sights.

Moreover, Rogozin charged that the senators claimed that the Phased Adaptive Approach (President Obama’s ballistic-missile defense plan for the protection of NATO allies and the U.S. homeland) is directed against Russia.

Not so, senior U.S. congressional sources present at the meeting tell me. According to them, Senator Kyl never said that the missile defense is aimed at Russia, and neither did Senator Kirk. Further, they report, the two sides were unable to agree on the definition of the threat from Iran. At that point, Sen. Kyl asked what was the sense of talking about cooperation on missile defense if there is no common definition of a threat.

This is a far cry from declaring that missile defenses are aimed at Russia. Besides, U.S. defenses cannot hit the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces deployed hundreds of miles east of the proposed locations in Romania and Bulgaria. The minimal number of proposed U.S. interceptors cannot significantly reduce the horrible power of a Russian strategic nuclear strike.

Rogozin also raised the issue of legally binding “reliable assurances” that a NATO system does not pose a threat to Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces.

However, Sen. Kyl noted that Russia is not willing to provide equally binding assurances that its ICBMs are not aimed at America. In fact, the only targets Russia can hit with its hundreds of heavily protected and mobile ICBMs are in North America. All others are much closer and can be targeted with the type of intermediate-range ballistic missiles the USSR and the United States gave up under Reagan and Gorbachev. The real assurances of Russia’s peaceful intentions would be the total destruction of such ICBMs, which is unrealistic.

Furthermore, Rogozin asked that Moscow and Washington operate two regional missile-defense systems—with full Russian access to U.S. early warning data and other sensitive information including U.S. system architecture. “What they can’t get through espionage, they want to get through a [missile defense] agreement,” the official present at the meeting told me. And Russia wants the United States to agree not to shoot down any missiles over Russian territory.

This is an untenable demand. When a missile is in the air, the United States should not be restrained from intercepting it just because it is launched over Russian territory.

The bottom line: Moscow is seeking ways to limit U.S. missile defenses as it did during the Cold War.

The lack of agreement on the Iranian threat is particularly disconcerting. Despite the latest round of U.N. sanctions, supported by Russia, Iran is stepping up its centrifuge development work and progressing steadily with uranium enrichment. In addition, Tehran supports terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Iranian missiles are already able to reach Europe (including Moscow) and might be able to target the United States by 2015. While Rogozin admitted that “there is a growing threat from the south [of Russia],” he refused to admit that Iran is the culprit.

It has been over two years since Washington launched the “reset” policy. Where is it heading in view of Russian rhetoric and threats?

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