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Moscow shows no enthusiasm over Obama’s call for nuclear arms cuts

June 20, 2013, 15:34 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 20 (Itar-Tass) - US President Barack Obama’s call for slashing the strategic offensive arms of Russia and the United States by a third has aroused no enthusiasm in Moscow at all. Experts believe that Russia is unlikely to respond to this proposal from Obama, because otherwise it would run the risk of upsetting the strategic balance. In any case Moscow will be prepared to discuss the issue only if the United States backtracks on its plans for deploying missile defense systems close to Russia’s borders. Also, Russian officials argue that other members of the “club of nuclear powers” should be plugged into the process of strategic nuclear arms reduction talks.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama, while in Berlin on a visit, urged Moscow to negotiate a simultaneous reduction in strategic nuclear arms by one-third from the level established under the current START-3 treaty. Also, Obama suggested discussing the outlook for reducing tactical nuclear arms, expressing his readiness to persuade NATO allies to reduce the amount of such armaments in Europe.

Under the 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty both countries are to reduce the number of nuclear warheads to 1,550, and the number of operational delivery vehicles, to 700. According to the daily Kommersant, the United States at the beginning of 2013 had 792 operational intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. Russia had 492 pieces of such weapons. The United States had at its disposal 1,654 nuclear warheads on delivery vehicles, and Russia, 1,480.

Obama and Putin discussed the outlook for nuclear arms reductions on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Lough Erne early this week. Some proposals on that score were contained in Obama’s message that was delivered to Putin last April.

Even before the US president’s statement Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said that Obama briefed Putin in general terms on his intention to propose further cuts in the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. He said Putin had studied that that information and “made certain remarks.”

Ushakov said that in Russia’s opinion nuclear potentials must be reduced not only by Russia and the United States, but by other nuclear powers, too. He recalled that today’s situation was very different from the one that existed in the 1960s and 1970s, when the United States and the Soviet Union were conducting nuclear arms reduction talks. The other countries in the club of nuclear powers are Britain, France, China, India, and Pakistan.

On Wednesday, while Obama was pronouncing his speech in Berlin, Putin said: “We cannot afford to allow the balance of the system of strategic deterrence broken and the effectiveness of our nuclear forces reduced.” Speaking in St. Petersburg at a conference devoted to progress in implementing the state program for armaments, Putin said that the United States and other countries were perfecting and upgrading their offensive weapons, including medium-range missiles. Putin warned that the arms race had spread into space and the leading world powers, including “our partners in the United States” were pushing ahead with ambitious programs for rearming their space forces.

After the conference, held behind closed doors, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin called in question the value of Obama’s proposal. “That (initiative by Obama) is evidence of either reluctance to understand the gist of the matter, or an outright falsehood, or an act of bluffing or cheating, or a sign of utter lack of professionalism,” Rogozin told the media.

“There is some sort of misunderstanding between nuclear powers,” Rogozin believes. “How can one go ahead with plans for building up a missile defense capable of intercepting another country’s nuclear potential and at the same time raise the question of reducing strategic arms? In the whole history of wars shields continued to be perfected and made stronger alongside swords. How can we react in full seriousness to the idea of reducing strategic nuclear arms at a time when the United States is building up its interception potential?”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov promised that Russia would study the US president’s proposal “in the most thorough way.” He said that “alongside the role of nuclear arms and issues related to setting caps on nuclear armaments” the Russian authorities would bear in mind the following factors - the missile defense situation; creation of smart conventional weapons under the instant global strike concept; the possibility of weapons being put in space, which Moscow is strongly against; and non-participation of countries in key arms control agreements.

Military analysts have said more than once that Moscow will be unprepared to take any measures to reduce its nuclear deterrence potential until START-3 has expired.

“I do not think that Russia will agree to changing the upper limit of the nuclear potential earlier than 2020,” the on-line daily quotes Pyotr Topychkanov, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at Moscow’s Carnegie center as saying.

“To Obama this initiative is important from the standpoint of domestic policies. It would allow the United States to save budget money,” the daily Kommersant quotes the director of the Arms Control Energy and Ecology Studies Center, Yevgeny Myasnikov, as saying. “The Obama team is aware that US nuclear forces are redundant, but the Republicans would be very critical of their hypothetical unilateral reduction. Therefore the United States seeks Russia’s reciprocity.”

Myasnikov believes that achieving such a quick breakthrough in that field is a really daunting task. “Russia and the United States have fundamental discrepancies in their understanding of the role of nuclear arms,” the analyst explained. “Obama argues that as long as there are nuclear weapons, the world will not be a safe place. Russia regards its nuclear arsenal as a safeguard of its security.”

“Russia finds this idea as absolutely disadvantageous, because nuclear arms are a means to maintain its geopolitical status. In a situation where the Americans are deploying their missile defense in Europe, the Asia-Pacific and other regions and will be putting interceptors in space, we should by all means refrain from making this task easier for them,” the director of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade, Igor Korotchenko, told the daily Izvestia.

“The Americans will continue to develop their missile defense and to gain ever more strength in that sphere. Alongside this they are trying to force us reduce our own armaments. This would upset the strategic balance between Russia and the United States. Russia will be a target for external manipulations. They will be able to keep us at gunpoint, while we will have nothing to take out of the holster,” the analyst said.

In a situation like this Russia feels no need for making drastic cuts to its strategic armaments. The current START-3 looks good enough.