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Putin: Russia-US Agreement Good Progress, No Breakthrough - 2001-07-23

Russian President Vladimir Putin says an agreement he reached with President George Bush linking missile defense with nuclear arms reduction represents good progress but cannot be considered a breakthrough. Mr. Putin's comments [Monday] came as Russian media began criticizing the Russian leader for allegedly giving in to Mr. Bush and his plans for a missile defense system.

Mr. Putin said no one should misinterpret the deal reached with Mr. Bush Sunday in Genoa at the G-8 summit. In remarks on Russian TV, he said he and Mr. Bush had expressed interest in trying to further reduce each country's nuclear arsenal.

He termed that aspect of Sunday's agreement as the most serious recent achievement. Mr. Putin also said he considered it very important that the two leaders had agreed that antimissile defense systems and offensive weapons should be regarded together. He said the two are connected.

Russian newspapers are characterizing the outcome of the Putin-Bush talks as Russia yielding to American pressure. A report in the influential business daily Vedomosti interpreted the news as evidence that Russia is ready to agree to U.S. missile defense plans in exchange for cuts in the U.S. missile arsenal. A headline in Kommersant, which is owned by one of Mr. Putin's staunchest critics, said "Russia Surrendered." The accompanying article said that Mr. Putin was showing that he will not respond in a major way if Washington decides to scrap the 1972-Anti Ballistic Missile treaty.

Russia has been adamantly opposed to any changes in the ABM treaty, which it views as the cornerstone of international stability. Moscow is worried that if America goes ahead with plans to deploy its planned anti-missile system it could lead to another arms race - something Russia cannot afford.

Washington has said the United States could withdraw from the ABM treaty if it stands in the way of its plans for a missile defense system.