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Russia Fears US Missile Shield Could Renew Arms Race

  • Anya Ardayeva

The United States is trying to reassure Russia that an American missile defense shield in central Europe will not undermine Russia's national security, but the Kremlin's reaction so far has been deeply skeptical. The United States says the rockets it plans to build will carry no warheads, and are intended only to intercept attacking missiles. Authorities in Russia say the U.S. plan could drag the world into a new arms race. Anya Ardayeva reports for VOA from Moscow.

The United States plans to deploy an anti-missile system in central Europe in the next five years -- 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic.

American officials say they intend to build a purely defensive system, as a shield to counter possible attacks from rogue states like Iran. Moscow, however, sees the Bush administration plan as a threat to Russia's national security.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made his opposition clear at the Munich security conference in February. He accused the United States of overstepping its national borders in every way, and of imposing its will on other states.

Mr. Putin says the United States is making a very dangerous move that could trigger a new arms race.

Rose Gottemoeller directs the Moscow offices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She says Russia's aggressive reaction has more to do with politics than anything else.

"The Russians take this as a political problem more than a technical threat. They say, 'Look, after the Cold War you promised you were not going to bring military forces up to our borders. And again and again and again you have broken this promise. We're fed up,'" she says.

Despite numerous statements from U.S. officials that Russians have nothing to worry about, Russia could soon aiming its nuclear arsenal at its closest neighbors.

The general who heads Russia's strategic missile forces, Nikolai Solovtsov, says that if Poland and the Czech Republic agree to the American missile shield, Russia's strategic forces are capable of targeting these facilities.

So why is Russia flexing its nuclear muscle? Observers like independent military analyst Alexander Goltz say the Kremlin is still angry about the U.S. decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (five years ago).

"It was not about possibility of nuclear war. All was about status of Russia. Americans broke the treaty which made Russia equal to the United States," he says.

But some voices in the West say Moscow cannot enjoy equal partnership with the U.S. as long as its actions at home and abroad are in conflict. While calling for a multipolar world, they say, Vladimir Putin is trying to create a unipolar society at home by eliminating political opponents and free media.

On the streets of Moscow, the Kremlin's strong anti-American rhetoric is getting quite a bit of support. One gave his thoughts on the matter.

"I think it's Americans who aggravate the relations with Russia. They are dictating what to do ... about democracy and everything else," he said. "This is why I can't say that the aggravation comes from Russia."

Yet there are others who think that the recent chill in relations between Russia and the United States is a sign that the two countries need to reconnect, and to start looking for common ground in their relationship.