June 15, 2007

Russia Retreats On Threats Over Missile Shield

Vladimir Putin has tried his best to fight the missile shield the US wants to create for Europe against the threat of Iranian attack. The Russian president has both fallen back on Cold War threats against Europe and the US, and also tried to divert the effort by offering Azerbaijan as a base -- but under Russian control. Neither have worked to intimidate the US or its European allies, and now Russia appears to have shifted into a less-antagonistic tone:

Russia dropped its threat to aim nuclear weapons at European cities yesterday in an abrupt change of tactics after weeks of Cold War-style brinkmanship.

Sergei Ivanov, the hawkish deputy prime minister who is seen as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin, said that only the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic where the United States wanted to erect an anti-missile system would be targeted.

Commentators suggested that the Kremlin was trying to lower the rhetoric ahead of a crucial meeting between Mr Putin and President George W Bush in Maine early next month.

The Russians have fallen back on an old Soviet habit: rewriting history. Eleven days ago, Putin very clearly stated that Russia would "of course" return to Cold War times of targeting major European cities, if the US, Poland, and the Czech Republic built the missile shield. Now the Russians say that they never meant to threaten all of Europe -- but they did nothing over the last eleven days to clarify that until now.

What changed? NATO met this week to discuss the new threat. Apparently the Russians didn't care for the consequences of a NATO response and decided to back down somewhat from their blustering. The Russians have a first-class missile system, but otherwise their military has serious infrastructure problems and they don't have the economy to fix it in a hurry. The Russians can't afford another 1980s-style arms race.

The shield presents no credible defense against the Russian missile system, and everyone knows it. It's not intended to defend against Russian attack -- and Putin knows this, too. Putin wants people to fear Russia like they did during his days in the KGB, but the West has less fear and more irritation over Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule and his aggressive and irrational foreign policy.

If Russia doesn't like the idea of a missile shield in Europe, then let him prevail upon his Iranian partners to end their nuclear program and dismantle the Shahab-3s, which have the range to hit half of Europe. Putin could quit protecting Iran on the Security Council and apply sanctions that really hurt, rather than watering down the response to Iranian intransigence. If Putin wants us to seriously reconsider the missile shield, he has options that would actually do something to reduce the security risks, rather than add to them.


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Comments (7)

Posted by stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 15, 2007 6:54 AM

"If Putin wants us to seriously reconsider the missile shield, he has options that would actually do something to reduce the security risks, rather than add to them." NKVD apparatchiks used disinformation. Does Putin want to reduce risks? To Putin it is better to increase the disinformation.

Posted by Lew | June 15, 2007 7:36 AM

Putin's problem with us having a major role in protecting Europe is that it puts the Europeans, especially the newly freed states of Eastern Europe, under OUR wing instead of theirs. Russia has never stopped seeing itself as the Great Eastern Empire that began in the 1400's, and to have its "sphere of influence" invaded like this is simply intolerable to those imperial aspirations. Russia, as economically prostrated as it is, can never let go of that self-image of power and empire and world respect, any more than they could willfully shed their own skin.

Putin sees the upstart Americans brashly poking their nose into what he considers his rightful domain, and he's not too likely to be amused.

Posted by Odysseus | June 15, 2007 8:11 AM

Putin's interest is twofold. First, is the obvious loss of influence in the "Near Abroad" region.

Second, he wants Iran to threaten Europe because instability in energy markets drives up prices, and Russia has finally gotten its act together as an exporter of oil and gas. A rabid, crazy Iran is a threat to all energy exporters in the region (including Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), which drives up the price, putting more money into Russia's (i.e. Putin's) pockets. Also, Putin loses credibility as an arms broker if the US puts up a shield that will protect Europe from his trading partners' toys. What's the point of buying Russian missile technology if it doesn't achieve the desired threat?

Posted by Eg | June 15, 2007 8:18 AM

Captain, at present the Iranian's do not have a missile with the capacity to reach or 'to hit half of Europe' from within the physical boundaries of Iran. (See: Defense Expert Discusses Iran's Missile Capabilities ).

This dynamic(range) will in all probability change during the summer as Lebanon becomes part of the Iranian Crescent and/or when the Mullah’s premier their Shahib-3B and 4 multi-stage variants. The Iranian’s do possess a dozen or so X-55(Kh-55 Granat/AS-15 Kent) long-range, nuclear capable cruise missiles sold illegally by the Ukrainian’s, however, the BMD offers no defense for this type of threat.

Posted by always right | June 15, 2007 10:58 AM

Simplest thing for russians to do - divide the "enemy". Now you have Poland and Czech (with US) vs. rest of Europe.

It worked before, and the strategy is still sound. However, rest of Europe may be too occupied/distracted by other more immediate worries.

Posted by Michel | June 18, 2007 4:57 PM

The only real danger from the American missile defense in Eastern Europe would be an American first strike destroying most of Russia's attack capabilities and the missile defense being used to pick off any surviving missiles. I don't believe that it is very likely that the United States will strike first, but Russia cannot afford to the necessary infrastructure investments to upgrade its defenses to effectively monitor its territory: much of the Russian Far East is not effectively covered by radar and it would be easy enough for the United States to launch a strike from the Pacific using its nuclear submarine fleet without the Russian Armed Forces detecting the attack. However, bluster is cheaper than spending real money to upgrade military defenses, money that can be siphoned off by friends and associates....

Posted by Igor | June 23, 2007 8:25 AM

Why don't you people from USA take some time to think about your dictator G.W.Bush instead of waging war all over the world, so that you can keep your fat lazy asses happy ? Your military is killing people all over the world with RADIOACTIVE munitions. I live to see the end of day one of nuclear holocaust. Russia is string and will continue to get stronger. Your economy is steadily falling behind China and Russia. Soon, USA will have some form of revolution - or it will die painfully in financial crisis far worse than one that happened during stock market breakdown.
At the end - it's not nuclear arsenal that matters. It's the will to fight even if you have no chances of winning the war. Russia will till last breath against USA dictatorial attempt to rule the world. Good work G. W. Bush ! Papa Adolph would be proud of your accomplishments !