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How they see us: Russian impotence on missile defense
<p style="text-align: left;">Russia is angry over the agreement between the U.S and the Czech Republic to create a missile defense system and responded with a threat to act militarily, but what options does it really have?
 

Russia is threatening military action, said Alexander Reutov in the Moscow Kommersant. Last week, the U.S. and the Czech Republic signed an agreement to create part of a missile-defense system. The U.S. says the system is intended to guard against “rogue states” such as Iran, but it could also intercept Russian missiles. The Foreign Ministry responded quickly, saying: “If a missile defense shield is actually stationed near our borders, we will be forced to react with military and technical, rather than diplomatic, means.” But what options does the Kremlin really have? It could withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eliminated short- and medium-range nuclear missiles from European territory. That would enable it to station nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, a Russian territory inside Europe, bordered by Poland and Lithuania. But creating and deploying such weapons would be extremely expensive, and they’d be useless unless Russia also deployed jamming devices to cripple the Czech-based radar. Such measures are unlikely. “This is supposed to be a time of peace,” military analyst Alexander Khramchikhin pointed out. “Nobody ever goes that far in a time of peace.”

Some peace, said the Moscow Nezavisimaya Gazeta in an editorial. When Washington first proposed stationing missile defenses in Eastern Europe, it said it would discuss its plans thoroughly with Russia and listen to Russian concerns. We took those assurances as a sign that the two countries had entered “a post–Cold War era.” But the “longer the discussions continued, the more hollow the American promises appeared.” Washington, it seems, was prepared to listen to Russian concerns only to reject them out of hand. Maybe the Cold War isn’t over after all.

You can’t blame Russia for being angry, said Jonathan Steele in the London Guardian. While President Bush was simpering at Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, at the G-8 meeting in Japan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice not only signed the radar deal with the Czechs, but she also visited Bulgaria and Georgia to discuss military cooperation with those former Russian satellites. The timing of those visits looked calculated to insult Medvedev “on his international debut.” Besides, to Russia, “as well as to millions” of people in other nations, “the creeping expansion of the American military empire” is ominous. No wonder Medvedev had his Foreign Ministry issue a strong statement denouncing the Czech agreement.

For now, though, Russia won’t back up its words with any particular action, said international security expert Alexsei Arbatov in an interview with Moscow’s Vesti.ru. The proposed U.S. missile defense system is tiny, and we could jam it right now with our existing technology. “The radar in the Czech Republic does not create any additional threats that would require new systems.” The real reason the Foreign Ministry gave its vague threat is to send a message that if the U.S. ever tries to expand the missile defense system and make it big enough to really threaten Russia’s deterrent capability, Russia will respond decisively. That’s enough of a response right now—especially considering that the next U.S. president “will certainly be more willing to talk with Russia.”

 

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