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Putin Hostile To Gates, Rice Over European Missile Defense Plan

By | October 15, 2007

      U.S. Concedes Nothing To Russians On Hot Issue After Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice journeyed all the way to suburban Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave them not even a crumb of approval for their plan to have the United States install a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Europe.

      Rather, in a meeting at his dacha, or country house, Putin publicly stiff-armed Gates and Rice, harshly condemning the plan to install a Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system in the Czech Republic (radar) and Poland (interceptors), a program that likely would be led by The Boeing Co. [BA].

      News reports quoted Putin as sarcastically saying that maybe ballistic missile defense systems could be installed on the moon, but not likely after any U.S. moves to install a BMD system in Europe.

      Putin, who has shown signs of wanting to circumvent democratic reforms in Russia by keeping himself in power, has adopted a schizophrenic response to the U.S. GMD plan for Europe. The Russian leader on the one hand threatens to annihilate the missile defense system militarily if it’s built, while simultaneously offering to provide radar input for such a BMD system.

      There were some curious facets to the Putin meeting with the U.S. Cabinet secretaries. For example, there is the question as to why some sort of face-saving, minor point of agreement wasn’t worked out with the Russians before the meeting, as often occurs in high-level confabs where no substantive agreement on major issues is likely.

      Also, there was the oddity of why there wasn’t some prior understanding that disagreements would be kept private, while public statements would be positive even if they were vague to the point of meaninglessness. That, too, often is the pattern for meetings where agreement is unlikely on major points of contention.

      Instead, Putin brusquely derided the GMD plan to Gates and Rice in public.

      For Putin, this is understandable, and richly rewarding. It makes him even more popular with the Russian populace to hammer Americans, seeming to return the Moscow regime to the glory days of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, when it was the only superpower to rival the might of the United States.

      As well, Putin’s coldly dismissive, perhaps even contemptuous, attitude toward Americans plays well in Iran, a rogue nation with which Russia has extensive ties.

      Gates and Rice argued to Putin that a BMD system is needed to protect Europe from ballistic missiles that might be launched from Middle Eastern nations such as Iran.

      The Americans have ample evidence to back that assertion, such as Iran launching multiple missiles in a single test, developing ever longer-range missiles, and launching a missile from a submerged submarine. Too, Iran obstinately continues to produce nuclear materials in the face of condemnation from other nations and the United Nations, amid fears that Iran soon will produce nuclear weapons.

      But the Russian leader seemed not to hear facts or reason.

      At times, Putin seemed almost boorish in his treatment of Rice and Gates.

      For example, he kept them waiting for more than half an hour before starting the meeting.

      He harangued them as though they were underlings, lashing out at the BMD proposal.

      And he surprised them by bringing up something not on the prearranged agenda, tossing a threat at them that Russia will pull out of a treaty aiming to eliminate short- and medium-range missiles because, he said, only Russian and the United States were party to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF.

      Gates and Rice thought perhaps Putin might be interested in pursuing, in detail, how the U.S. GMD system in Europe might use data from Russian radars, such as one in Azerbaijan, or an installation in southern Russia. It may be that the talks became more amicable in private sessions, after the scolding that Putin delivered in the public event. U.S. Loses Nothing Still, while Putin perhaps gained satisfaction from publicly criticizing the European missile defense shield to their faces, he didn’t extract from Gates and Rice any concession whatever.

      The United States remains committed to installing the European missile defense shield against longer-range missiles, assuming that the Czechs and Poles agree, in a manner that would complement NATO plans to create its own shield against shorter-range enemy weapons. Russian bluster and threats haven’t intimidated the Americans into retreating from the GMD plan, nor have outbursts from Moscow caused Europeans to reject the GMD plan out of hand.

      A meeting in Washington between Gates and Rice on the U.S. side, with their counterparts on the Russian side (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov), is slated to occur in half a year.

      The issue plays out as some in Congress, especially in the House, wish to cut funding for the European GMD installation, saying that the Czech Republic and Poland haven’t yet agreed to host the system.

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