"What the American militarists are doing at the start of the new administration's activity is a challenge to international security and the entire world community, said Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, chief of the Russian Defense Ministry, as reported by AP on Feb. 16, 2001, following the U.S. and British bombing raid on Bagdad, Iraq. This sentiment was echoed by Egypt and NATO allies, France and Turkey.
This statement came two days after Interfax quoted Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev as saying that the U.S. national missile defense (NMD) plan was a direct violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and would threaten Russia and the world. Sergeyev was further quoted as saying, We have actually reached the stage of working out understandings on START III (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) that would definitely be followed by the involvement of the entire nuclear club in the process of reducing strategic offensive armaments.
Washington claims that the NMD is defensive, not offensive, in nature and intended to protect the U.S., and any other nation under its umbrella, from attack by rogue states. This has been the official explanation during the Clinton administration, now echoed by the Bush White House. Russia and China claim that the system, if built, would be intended against them. The 1972 ABM, antiquated or not, is still in effect and prohibits such systems. To break or amend this treaty would set off a new arms race and what some refer to as a new Cold War.
On the same day that the U.S. reminded Iraq's Sadam Hussein of their resolve, Moscow sent the U.S. and Europe a message of its own. For the past nine years, Russia has voiced its opposition to the NMD and quickly became aware that the new administration of President George W. Bush is resolved to go forward with the plan. Feeling that their opposition had fallen on deaf ears in Washington, Moscow stepped up efforts to persuade European NATO allies, already not totally in favor of the $60 billion NMD, to break away from the U.S. effort. On Friday, February 16, 2001, Russia took the next step in this effort.
Russia periodically test fires nuclear capable missiles; nothing unusual here. However, the Friday launch was unusual in that they almost simultaneously launched missiles from a land based launch pad, deployed bomber and a submarine at sea. This nuclear cocktail involved a land launched Topol M intercontinental ballistic missile from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia and a ballistic missile deployed from a submarine in the Barents Sea. Both hit their test targets on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Two hours later, a strategic missile was fired from a TU-95 bomber along with two tactical missiles. Two days earlier, on February 14, Russian bombers conducted exercises near Japanese and Norwegian airspace causing both countries to jump into action. The two exercises were very possibly part of one exercise designed to send the message that Russia should not be totally disregarded as a military power just yet.
Moscow followed up this display with an alternative to the costly U.S. NMD. Not coincidently, NATO chief, George Robertson, is scheduled to meet with President Putin on February 20. AP quoted Ivashov as saying that Russia has a defense system of its own that will protect Russia and Europe from surprise attack for a much smaller pricetag than the U.S. system. Moscow is ready to present this plan to Robertson during his visit.
Ivashov told Reuters that the Russian plan would begin with a complete analysis of existing and possible future threats. The next step would be to attempt to deal with these situations via non-military channels. This failing, a mobile anti-missile system would be deployed against the possible aggressor. The U.S. NMD is intended to protect the U.S. and her allies against possible attack from, so called, rogue states, such as N. Korea, Iraq and Iran. Moscow believes that the NMD would lead to a new arms race; an opinion shared by some NATO nations. The U.S. continues to assure Russia that the NBD is designed to ward off small attacks and would not be able to guard against a deployment of Russia's huge nuclear forces.
Russia admits that implementing their version of a defense system would likely mean violating START II by increasing the number of active Topol-M missiles and resurrecting Satan missiles. This would happen only if the U.S. violates the ABM. Russian defense officials see the only true defense for their country to be complete economic recovery.
Ivashov contends that the NMD would do a disservice to European NATO nations both economically and politically. European nations would, according to Ivashov's statements reported by AP, suffer more than the U.S. if relationships between Russia and the West were to decline. He went on to say that, if NATO moved eastward, Moscow might place nuclear defense in the Baltic region. This comment was made in response accusations printed in the Washington Times that Russia already has nuclear missiles situated in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, between Lithuania and Poland. AP quoted Ivashov as saying this accusation is absolute and complete nonsense.
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