RIA-Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev 

Missile Shield Saga Takes New Turn as Russia Reportedly Halts Missile Deployment

January 28, 2009 05:02 PM
by Josh Katz
A Russian source says that Moscow is shelving its military response to the U.S. missile shield, an apparent thawing in the tense relations between the two countries.

Report: Russia Suspends Missile Deployment

Russia has allegedly stopped its plans to install missiles near its border with Poland, in what some analysts are calling a move to improve relations with U.S. President Barack Obama. A Russian news agency cited a Russian military official as the source of the news, but the Kremlin has not officially confirmed the statement, Reuters writes. The Iskander missiles were supposed to be stationed the western region of Kaliningrad.

According to the report, the suspension came after Obama and Russian President President Dmitry Medvedev spoke on the phone on Monday. The Kremlin said that the presidents discussed “their intention to focus their efforts on renewing the potential of Russian-American relations, and on resolving issues in a constructive way,” according The New York Times.

Russia allegedly halted its plan because Obama is not advancing the construction of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, although he still publicly remains undecided about his position on the matter.

“The implementation of these plans has been halted in connection with the fact that the new U.S. administration is not rushing through plans to deploy” pieces of its missile defense shield in Europe, Interfax news agency quoted an anonymous official in Russia’s military’s general staff as saying, according to Reuters.

However, a Kremlin official responded to the news by saying, “Our position remains unchanged. We have said that we will not be the first to deploy Iskanders and we are monitoring signals from the United States,” Reuters reports.

Itar-Tass, the government-controlled news agency, quoted a senior defense official as saying the information about the Russian withdrawal was “pure fiction, total nonsense,” The New York Times writes.

Medvedev and Obama will most likely meet at the Group of 20 summit in London on April 2, and the issue may be discussed further. Some analysts say Russia may be pursuing more favorable international ties because of its economic problems; the value of the ruble has dropped by about a quarter since July, according to Reuters.

Background: Missile shield controversy escalates

A Dec. 15 meeting between U.S. officials and Russian representatives demonstrated Russia’s increasingly staunch opposition to the missile defense shield and sent a message about its future diplomacy with the new American president. “In some ways, their position is less flexible than it was before,” said John Rood, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, according to Bloomberg.

Shortly after Obama won the presidential election, Medvedev announced that Moscow would place short-range missiles near Poland’s border to “neutralize” America’s planned missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, Reuters reported. Many observers felt that Medvedev was trying to make a statement by announcing the move so close to the election, and attempting to influence Obama administration policy.

Obama’s aides have claimed that the president is not committed to the shield, and he will follow through with the plans only if the shield is proven to work. In the Sept. 26 presidential debate, Obama said, “The biggest threat to the United States is a terrorist getting their hands on nuclear weapons,” and “we … are spending billions of dollars on missile defense. And I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons.”

Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn is a senior defense advisor to Obama, and, as a Los Angeles Times editorial noted, the president-elect could take his views into consideration on the matter of missile defense. Nunn has chastised the Bush administration for widening the diplomatic rift between the United States and Russia by supporting Poland and Ukraine’s entry into NATO. Similarly, Nunn might try to lead Obama away from European missile defense.

In November, the outgoing head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency exhorted Obama to carry on the missile shield plans. Lt. Gen. Henry Obering of the Air Force said that abandoning the project in Poland and the Czech Republic “would severely hurt” America’s ability to defend against an Iranian attack. He also argued that it would damage U.S. influence in NATO, which worries about “an emerging threat from Iran that must be addressed.” He said that the 36 successful test missile intercepts in 45 attempts since 2001 prove the shield’s workability.

In early December, Russia declared that it would produce a stockpile of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, in an apparent attempt to counter the planned U.S. missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia has called the current policy of the United States “arrogant” and unilateral, highlighting a further escalation of regional tensions centered on recent efforts to include former Soviet states and Russian neighbors in Western-sponsored policy efforts, specifically NATO.
Although NATO and Pentagon supporters of the U.S. missile defense system have said it is intended for use against a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, Russia has repeatedly expressed displeasure for the system’s close proximity to its borders.

A year of sharp exchanges about global expansion and Russia’s increasingly close military and economic relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez culminated in an exchange of direct criticism and threats following the incursion of Russian troops into a breakaway region of neighboring Georgia.

Following the standoff over Georgia’s South Ossetia region, Russia sent warships to Venezuelan borders, further inflaming the tension between Russia’s government and the West.

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