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US, Russia Discuss Missile Defense - 2001-08-21

A top U.S. arms envoy is in Moscow for talks with Russian officials about Washington's plans for a national missile defense. Washington hopes the meeting will help ease the Kremlin's concerns over the plans.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton is the fifth senior American official to visit Moscow in a month, evidence, some would say, of Washington's determination to win Russian acceptance of U.S. missile defense plans.

Yet there is a growing sense in Moscow that despite optimistic public statements about each side's willingness to talk, prospects for agreement are nearly non-existent.

Independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says he is not optimistic about the talks because neither side is willing to negotiate.

"Russia will never agree and nothing will satisfy Russia," he said. "Right now the negotiations, or consultations these are not negotiations - are going into a dead end."

Another who shares that view is Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow. He says that in many ways the nature of relations between Moscow and Washington is no better than it was 30 years ago.

"The problem is that both sides, to a great extent, perceive each other in the framework of the Cold War paradigm - what is good for America is bad for Russia and vice versa," he said.

Last month, Russia and the United States agreed to link talks on missile defense with nuclear arms reductions. The implication is that if Washington wants Moscow to agree to an American missile defense system then the United States had better be willing to make a compromise in the nuclear arms reduction area. Yevgeny Volk says Moscow will make it difficult for the United States by demanding very deep cuts in nuclear stockpiles.

"I believe Russia will insist on dramatic reductions on the nuclear warheads, which is unlikely [in]convenient for the United States considering their global interests," he said.

The key issue remains Washington's insistence on developing a missile defense system, which is not permitted under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia considers the ABM treaty the cornerstone of international security.

Military analyst Felgenhauer says Moscow's goal is not to find a solution to the impasse, but rather to maneuver the United States into a position where it will have to scrap the ABM treaty unilaterally.

"This will show the world that the United States is a rogue state. So actually if the United States goes ahead, that will be seen in Moscow as a big diplomatic victory," he said. "And of course the Russian military is not afraid of the American NMD system because they know it will not work, at least it will not work good enough to negate the Russian nuclear deterrence."

But even if both sides do somehow manage to find agreement, they have very different views of what form it should take. Moscow wants a verifiable treaty, while Washington is believed to favor a more informal approach such as a memorandum of understanding.

With such differences any sort of agreement is seen in Moscow as a very long way off.