Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed the failure to reach agreement on his nation's involvement in a European antiballistic missile system on U.S. negotiators' refusal to put down in writing previously offered verbal commitments, RIA Novosti reported on Friday (see GSN, Feb. 29).
“They made some proposals to us which we virtually agreed to and asked them to get them down on paper,” said Putin, who is widely expected to be re-elected president in voting on Sunday. "They told us: we would offer you this, this and that. We did not expect this, but I said: we agree. Please put it down on paper."
“We were waiting for their answer for two months. We did not get it, and then our American partners withdrew their own proposals, saying: no, it’s impossible,” Putin said in an interview with Western journalists.
NATO, the United States and Russia agreed in November 2010 to open talks on areas for potential missile defense cooperation. Multiple levels of talks have not yet resulted in a deal. A primary obstacle appears to be Washington and Brussels' refusal to offer a binding legal guarantee Moscow has said is necessary to assuage its concern that U.S. missile interceptors planned for deployment around Europe could be aimed at Russia's strategic nuclear weapons.
The United States insists its plans to through 2020 field increasingly advanced interceptors in Poland and Romania, and on battleships home ported in Spain, are aimed at deterring a feared ballistic missile attack from the Middle East. The U.S. program is central to the broader NATO program to enhance and connect the missile defense operations of its member states.
The Obama administration has considered providing Russia with some technical data on the U.S. Standard Missile 3's missile burnout velocity. Officials said the information could prove to Moscow that the interceptors do not have the capability to defeat long-range Russian ballistic missiles (see GSN
, Nov. 17, 2011). Following heated objections to the provision of such data, the White House promised that no telemetry or other highly sensitive data would be supplied to Moscow (see GSN
, Jan. 18).
Putin said U.S. negotiators offered to let Russian personnel constantly watch over missile defense infrastructure in Europe and said radar units on the continent would be physically fixed squarely in the direction of Iran and thus would be "technically unable to turn towards Russia."
"This would not change the situation dramatically, but we said: OK, it's already something, we agree. Put it down on paper. But they refused," the prime minister said (RIA Novosti I
, March 2).
Meanwhile, Russia is in negotiations regarding its lease of a radar station in Azerbaijan, RIA Novosti reported. Baku would like to see the yearly payments from Russia for use of the facility substantially increased (see GSN,
Nov. 18, 2011).
“The talks on Gabala continue," Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in a Tuesday interview. "The first round was quite constructive. Soon we will agree with our Azerbaijani colleagues on the dates when the Russian delegation can leave for Azerbaijan for further talks.”
The Kommersant newspaper reported the Azerbaijani government wants the annual fee increased to $300 million even though it was only asking for $15 million several months ago. Moscow now pays $7 million per year, according to the report.
"This amount is exorbitant and totally unjustified; we will press for its considerable reduction. We still hope to come to an agreement," an anonymous Russian Defense Ministry insider said.
Another source said Russia could have to end its use of Gabala "if Baku fails to moderate its appetite."
At present, the radar base plays a crucial role in Russia's missile defense preparations as it tracks Iranian missile tests and monitors against potential threats launched from the Indian Ocean or other locations to the south (RIA Novosti II,
Separately, Spain is in talks with the United States on incorporating its Aegis-equipped warships into the NATO missile shield, the Spanish newspaper ABC reported this week.
Informed insiders told the newspaper that "the Spanish [F-100 class] frigates are also fitted with the Aegis combat system for tracking ballistic missiles -- the same that the U.S. destroyers use. Only a change in the ships' software will be required to incorporate them into NATO's missile defense system."
The cost of incorporating the frigates into the alliance missile shield would be "relatively economical," the sources said.
Still, "we are at the negotiating stage; no decision has been taken yet," sources said.
Madrid has already agreed to allow four U.S. Aegis-equipped destroyers to be based out of the naval base at Rota (see GSN
, Feb. 17; ABC
, Feb. 29).