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From Cornerstone To Relic: Russia Makes Painful Shift On ABM

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov (L) shakes hands with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after their meeting in Moscow 03 November 2001. Rumsfeld and Ivanov met one on one in Moscow to discuss nuclear arsenal cuts, US plans for a missile defense system, and US Russian cooperation in the anti-terrorist campaign. AFP Photo
by Dmitry Zaks
Moscow (AFP) Nov 4, 2001
Moscow's painful admission to Washington that the ABM treaty looks more like a "relic" than a "cornerstone" is the first -- and possibly easiest -- step in the forging of 21st century allies out of two Cold War foes whose armies were bred on mutual hostility and mistrust.

"We have often been told in the past that the ABM treaty is a relic of the Cold War," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in reference to a 1972 treaty that has helped Moscow curb US ambitions to build a missile defense shield.

"In part, and I repeat in part, I agree with this," Ivanov said Saturday after meeting his US counterpart Donald Rumsfeld, who was launching a five-nation tour aimed at bolstering support for the US campaign in Afghanistan.

Ivanov's concession leaves Moscow with some room to maneuver on strategic security issues before the November 13-15 summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart George W. Bush.

But it marks a rapid and significant shift, coming just a week after the Kremlin again branded the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty a "cornerstone" agreement during a visit here by Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao.

The reversal means that Putin -- after months of deliberation -- has thrown caution to the wind and is pronouncing Moscow ready for a long-term military partnership with Washington, not necessarily a popular view in the Russian government or the public at large.

"This is a huge step which was long overdue," said Andrei Piontkovsky of Moscow's Center for Strategic Studies. "But unfortunately, this will also deal a heavy and humiliating blow to ordinary Russians."

Putin swept to power on a nationalist law-and-order agenda and his about-turn is making waves: NATO troops are now stationed in former Soviet republics and Moscow has conceded missile defense while getting, some say, only a cynical 'thank you' in return.

"The Russian government elite is taking a very isolationist position and is concerned about what may happen in Crawford," Texas, where Bush has a ranch, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political strategist who worked on Putin's 2000 election campaign.

Some Russian analysts have heaped criticism on Putin's administration for failing to provide a list of specific demands, from debt write-offs to arms purchase deals, sought in exchange for military cooperation with Washington.

Meanwhile US pundits voice skepticism about what has spurred the shadowy former KGB spy Putin to suddenly recast himself as a friend, and question just how useful Russia can be in a reprisal attack on Afghanistan.

Russia has offered important airspace but no troops for the Afghan offensive, and stressed that it would never support potential "anti-terror" strikes against its Middle East trading partners Iraq and Iran.

It did volunteer to provide intelligence. But many say that Russia has little information to share on Afghanistan since Moscow's contacts there are limited to the opposition Northern Alliance.

Analysts add that any military intelligence offered by Moscow is unlikely to be taken at face value in Washington, which knows that the Russian army brass is not welcoming the US troops' appearance in strategic former Soviet lands, such as Uzbekistan, with open arms.

"You must remember that this is the first time the two sides' intelligence services have had to cooperate in 50 years," said Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies.

"They must exchange information and ideas, and learn to trust each other. These are the issues which are now on the agenda."

But assessing the many political risks, some analysts say Putin saw the September 11 terror strikes on the United States as the perfect moment in which to reposition Russia -- which has endured a partial identity crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- as a Western ally for the 21st century.

Putin's effort may backfire dramatically however if that olive branch, and the significance of the Kremlin's strategic defense shift, is not grasped by the Bush team, analysts warn.

"Russia and the US have a common main enemy for the first time since 1945," said Sergei Rogov, director of the USA-Canada Studies Institute.

"A strategic partnership never got off in the 1990s because there were parallel interests but there was no common enemy, and the legacy of the Cold War was too strong," Rogov said.

"But so far, no reciprocal moves have been made by the US side," said Rogov. "Either the alliance materializes now, or it will be another missed opportunity that may be followed by tragic events."

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 Russia May Agree To More Missile Defense Tests
Washington (AFP) Oct 28, 2001
After months of talks with top Russian officials, Moscow is being swayed that US missile defense tests pose no threat, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told the New York Times in an interview published Sunday. Rice said that talks with officials, including President Vladimir Putin, were "bearing fruit," and that Moscow is beginning to realize that US tests were "not actually a threat" to them.

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