Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to Russian ambassadors at the Russian Foreign Ministry on June 27, mentioned the need to start negotiations for replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), set to expire in 2009. While insisting on mutual respect and equal footing in relations with the United States, Putin is working in the context of START-1 to portray Russia's former Cold War enemy as the irresponsible player in order to strengthen Moscow's policy positions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed senior diplomats June 27 in the Russian Foreign Ministry. Along with discussing the main aspects of Russian foreign policy, Putin voiced the need for a more equitable relationship with the United States — one of mutual respect and equal footing. Part of that relationship, Putin said, should be the beginning of talks between the two countries to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) — a pact that limits both sides' nuclear capabilities and requires mutual inspections — that was signed five months before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and is set to expire in 2009. With that statement, Putin is drawing attention to the fact that the United States wants to allow a treaty that limits its military options to lapse. Russia feels that it would benefit from the mutual inspections which START-1 requires — a reversal from Moscow's previous position. Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles are coming to the end of their shelf-lives, and the new SS-27 model is has been wracked with delays. The access to U.S. weapons and surveillance programs that comes with the inspections would benefit Russia's already robust research and development, as well as provide verification of the United States' capabilities. At the same time, the United States does not wish to limit itself, as Washington realizes that Russia cannot sustain the same rate of growth, and other potential competitors such as China are not bound by limitations like START-1. It is Washington's unwillingness to restrict armaments that Putin is playing up as irresponsible in order to put Russia in a better light. Although the rhetoric is directed at the United States, Putin is really speaking to Europe. The continent was caught between the two sides of the Cold War, and this latest message is directed at Berlin and Paris. Europe does not wish to be caught between Russia and the United States if the two should engage in another arms race and would like to see a commitment from Washington to limit its capabilities. Russia would like to use this concern to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States, by influencing the Europeans to tell Washington that they do not agree with its lack of a commitment to disarmament. Russia already holds influence with Germany and France, including but not limited to energy supplies, and the Europeans themselves do not always want to support U.S. policies. Putin's greater agenda is to direct U.S. attention away from Russia's borders and areas of interest. Strengthening its periphery is essential to Russia's survival, and that includes retaining a degree of control in the former Soviet states. NATO's potential encroachment upon Russia's borders in Ukraine and Georgia is a major threat to Russia's geopolitical calculus, and Moscow will use all of its resources to prevent it. Part of this strategy is to shift Europe's thinking in a direction that more closely coincides with Moscow's goals. The United States, however, is not letting Russia do as it would please. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney gave a speech in Lithuania on May 4 in which he berated Russia for its interference with the former Soviet states and brought to mind Cold-War era rhetoric. The United States also has troops deployed in Japan and is negotiating with Central European allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to install an anti-missile base. Post-Soviet Central Europe has been very supportive of Washington, and while these states would turn toward the United States if caught in the middle of a Russo-U.S. dispute, the Central Europeans can only depend on trans-Atlantic relations to a point. Russia, in turn, has announced its defense budget for 2007, complete with numerous upgrades to its aircraft, tanks and weapons. Russia is positioning itself to strengthen its forces, beef up its periphery and present itself as powerful, both to achieve its goals abroad and show strength at home, where the campaign for president is in its beginning stages. Putin has, in his speech, told the international community that he is going to assert Russian rights just as any other nation would, and that any opposition to Russia protecting its sovereignty and maintaining its great power status is irrational. Moscow is positioning itself to look like a leader in disarmament, portraying the United States as the irresponsible party acting out of selfish interests. While such rhetoric will not influence U.S. policy, Putin has used it as an appeal to European nations in hopes of persuading those countries to speak out against Washington's policy regarding disarmament.