Russia strongly opposes Washington's plan to introduce a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the proposal, which will be discussed during the upcoming Bush-Putin summit (July 1-2) in Kennebunkport, Maine.
U.S. officials say the proposed missile defense system, made up of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, is needed against potential threats from countries such as Iran. They say it is not targeted against Russia.
But Russian officials have strongly criticized the proposed missile defense system. President Vladimr Putin has even threatened to target U.S. allies in Europe with nuclear missiles if plans go ahead with deployment.
Robert Legvold, a Russia expert at Columbia University in New York, says Moscow sees the Polish and Czech initiatives as the first steps in a much broader plan to install a larger missile defense system throughout Europe in the years to come.
"If there are genuine strategic defense concerns involved, I think it's the future and what they think the U.S. may be doing," Legvold said. "But the political-psychological side is part of this larger notion that the United States is simply disregarding Russia's interests and concerns and going ahead doing whatever it chooses to do unilaterally, including expanding, enlarging NATO into this region and bringing more military power close to Russian borders - not just the Polish-Czech case with missile defense, but the bases that are being planned for Romania and Bulgaria and a number of other steps taken within Europe - and that without consulting Russia."
President Putin recently offered Washington use of a radar facility in Gabala, Azerbaijan in exchange for abandoning the Czech and Polish plans. U.S. officials have reacted coolly to the idea but have agreed to discuss it.
Jason Lyall, a Russia expert at Princeton University, says Mr. Putin's offer is a very smart maneuver.
"Because what it does is it makes the United States decline Putin's gracious offer and it makes the United States look like it won't be the willing party to meet Russia halfway," Lyall said. "The radar site in Gabala, Azerbaijan, is actually very, very old, very decrepit and doesn't cover all of Iran. So Putin doesn't lose anything by giving up this radar system and he gains a lot by being seen as an honest broker, somebody who is concerned about this and hopefully he could knock out the radar system in the Czech Republic and Poland."
During a recent trip to Poland on June 8 President Bush repeated the U.S. view that the missile defense system is not directed against Russia. And he went on to say, "indeed we would welcome Russian cooperation in missile defense." .
The missile defense issue will be one of the topics discussed during the upcoming Bush-Putin summit in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Dale Herspring, a Russia expert at Kansas State University, says Mr. Putin must take up President Bush's offer to get involved.
"Now it may be that they will give him only cosmetic involvement," Herspring said. "In that case, if I were the Russians, I'd just say the hell with it. What Putin needs to do to Mr. Bush in Kennebunkport, is say: 'Okay, Mr. President. Now you say you want us involved. What does that mean specifically? I have General Popov sitting here next to me. We want to know exactly what you are talking about when you say us being involved. And then we'll be in a position to give you a more serious answer.'"
Herspring and others do not believe any major breakthroughs will be achieved in Kennebunkport. But they say the informal setting there might help to bring some movement on key issues, including missile defense.