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Russian Leaders Highlight Value, Threat of Nuclear Weapons

Russian leaders in recent comments have cited the strategic value and the potential danger that arise from the nation's nuclear arsenal, the Financial Times reported on Thursday (see GSN, Feb. 27).

Dmitry Medvedev, just before ending his term as president earlier this month, told a gathering of prominent Russian citizens that good examples needed to be set for the next generation so they would be emboldened to pursue "success in literature, art, education and nuclear weapons."

"They may still come in handy," Medvedev, now Russia's prime minister, said without offering further context for the remark. "We're not going to use them, but let's still keep them around, because we have a big country, a complex country. We must value it and protect it."

Vladimir Putin, Medvedev's predecessor and now replacement, in February stressed the importance of maintaining strategic nuclear parity with the United States. "This is very important. After World War II, this balance ensured the absence of global conflicts. Unfortunately, there are many regional conflicts and their number is only growing. But the balance of strategic forces will help avoid major conflicts," he said.

Despite having implemented the New START accord with the United States, which obligates each side by 2018 to reduce their respective deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads, Russian leaders in statements this month have emphasized the threat of nuclear war, according to the Times.

At a news briefing, Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov said nations that house NATO and U.S. missile shield infrastructure on their territory could face a pre-emptive Russian attack. "A decision on pre-emptive use of the attack weapons available will be made when the situation worsens," the general warned.

Medvedev last week cautioned against military actions that run counter to a nation's sovereignty. Such moves "can end with a full-fledged regional war, or even, and I don't want to scare anybody," the use of nuclear weapons," he said.

The militaristic rhetoric was followed this week by a highly touted successful launch of a new Russian ICBM that is understood to be designed to outmaneuver developing NATO ballistic missile defenses in Europe (see GSN, May 23).

Moscow's rhetoric appears to be aimed at the United States and NATO, which on Sunday declared establishment of an interim capability to defeat ballistic missile strikes on Europe (see GSN, May 18). Through 2020, the United States plans to deploy increasingly advanced sea- and land-based missile interceptors around Europe. The U.S. "phased adaptive approach" forms the core of a broader NATO effort to augment and coordinate individual members' antimissile programs.

Though the Western military alliance maintains its missile defense efforts are aimed at protecting against a perceived Iranian ballistic missile threat, Moscow suspects future-generation U.S. missile interceptors planned for deployment in Europe would be capable of targeting its long-range nuclear weapons.

Russia has warned it could deploy short-range missiles to the Kaliningrad -- a Russian exclave that borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania -- if a compromise is not reached with Brussels and Washington on missile defense.

Still, the general Russian population does not share the Kremlin's concern about the maintenance of strategic stability, according to Russia in Global Affairs journal lead editor Fedor Lukyanov. "For most Russians, nuclear security doesn't matter. It's all taking place in a parallel reality, unconnected to mainstream politics."

The United States maintains its missile defense systems in Europe pose no technical threat to Russia's strategic missile force. However, Moscow argues that future-generation U.S. interceptors planned for deployment around 2020 could have the capacity to target its ICBMs.

Moscow has also opposed bilateral deals struck by Romania and Poland to host U.S. missile interceptors. However, U.S. defense analysts believe that locating the interceptors in territory so close to Russia will actually undermine their utility against the Kremlin's ballistic missiles.

Interceptors launched from Aegis-equipped warships would actually pose a greater danger than the land-based interceptors, argued Institute for the U.S. and Canada Studies head Sergei Rogov, as they would have a greater amount of time to catch up to and destroy Russian missiles.

"There is a sense of unreality," Rogov said of the missile defense debate. "They don't listen to our arguments, and we don't listen to theirs."

The discussion has become "about technologies on both sides that don't exist, and may never exist," the Moscow-based expert said. The United States is "deploying technology against Iranian ICBMs which Iran doesn't have, while Russia is concerned about similarly non-existent American interceptors."

"The argument is just a battle of worse-case scenarios," he added (Clover/Dyer, Financial Times, May 24).

In declaring at its Chicago summit an interim antimissile capability, NATO also affirmed the shield would not target Russia.

While welcoming that assurance, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich on Thursday said his government still required a legally enforceable pledge on the matter, Interfax reported.

"We view the Chicago summit assurances that the alliance's missile defense will not be targeted (against Russia) as a step in the right direction," the spokesman said.

"However, such political statements cannot serve as a foundation for cooperation," Lukashevich continued. "Reliable and based on precise military and technical parameters, legal guarantees of the nontargeting of the deploying missile defense network against the Russian nuclear deterrence forces are essential to us" (Interfax, May 24).

Following an agreement at a 2010 summit in Lisbon, Portugal, the former Cold War enemies have engaged in multiple rounds of talks on potential missile defense collaboration but have not been able to narrow their differences.

Lukashevich warned that Moscow's willingness to maintain the talks was growing short, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"As the United States' plans to create a missile defense system are getting real shape on the ground, the time for finding a compromise is running out," he said (Xinhua News Agency/China Daily, May 25).

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