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Russia Report: February 27, 2007

Is Heated Rhetoric Leading To 'Cold War Lite'?

By Victor Yasmann

How far is Putin willing to go?

February 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his harshly worded critique of U.S. foreign policy at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, observers have speculated about the dawn of a new Cold War. But is that what Russia wants?

Following Putin's cue, Russian political and military leaders have unleashed a steady stream of uncompromising rhetoric in the days since the Munich conference.

Of them, the most serious was the Kremlin's threat to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and target missile-defense facilities that the United States is proposing to base in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia may simply be thirsting for an opportunity to show off its rising geopolitical and economic ambitions

Washington's response has been firm but formally conciliatory. Plans for the missile-defense bases remain unchanged, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the facilities are not intended for use against Russia, and that he does not understand Moscow's concerns.

U.S. President George W. Bush also dispatched his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, to Brussels and Berlin this week for talks with NATO and Russian leadership. Hadley, currently in Moscow, told Russian Security Council chief Igor Ivanov that Washington is eager to talk through its problems with the Kremlin.

At the same time, a U.S. congressional delegation -- led by Tom Lantos (Democrat, California), the chairman of the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives -- this week extended its own olive branch. The representatives urged the U.S. government to lift the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which restricts trade relations with Russia and has been one of the main roadblocks to Moscow's entry into the World Trade Organization.

Simmering Standoff

Back in Europe, meanwhile, the standoff continues. The Czechs and the Poles have expressed willingness to host the U.S. missile-defense facilities. Germany, perhaps sensitive to its fuel-dependent ties with Russia, has issued a warning note, with Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung expressing concern that the project has the power to "undermine stability and split Europe."

Is Russia intentionally pitting "old" Europe against "new" Europe in hopes of driving a wedge between NATO and EU members?

If so, it's not a new tactic. In 1983, the Soviet Union successfully encouraged antiwar protests throughout Europe after the United States deployed Pershing missiles in West Germany. The KGB launched a propaganda campaign that effectively persuaded many Europeans that the U.S. Pershings would force Soviet missiles to target Europe.

Putin, a young KGB officer at the time, had ample opportunity to observe the strategy at work.

This time around, Russia's threat to target the U.S. missile-defense bases proposed for the Czech Republic and Poland may be a bluff. Even if Russia makes good on its threat to withdraw from the INF treaty, it will take many years, and many rubles, before it can resume production of the short- and medium-range missiles needed to conduct such a strike.

Treaty Retreat

Still, sentiment against the INF is running high. Lieutenant General Gennady Yevstafiyev, who in the 1990s headed the arms-control department of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, told the pro-Kremlin website that Russia no longer needs the INF.

Yevstafiyev complained that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who signed the treaty with then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, had made too many concessions to the United States.

"The missiles that we had before the signature of the INF treaty are the most efficient thing for fighting against the objects now being created by the Americans," Yevstaviyev said.

A demonstration this month outside the Czech Embassy in Moscow against U.S. missile-defense plans (epa)

Russian officials have also suggested that they are prepared to withdraw from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which was intended to enhance arms control in post-Cold War Europe.

The CFE, concluded in 1990 by the 22 members of NATO and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact, was updated in 1999 to reflect a "new balance" of forces and geopolitical reality in Europe.

Russia signed and ratified the treaty, but NATO members have refused to follow suit until Moscow withdraws all its military bases from former Soviet republics like Georgia and Moldova.

But now, officials like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov say the CFE has no relevance now that most of the former Warsaw Pact states have joined NATO. Yevstafiyev, for his part, says the "new balance" has already been "broken."

History Repeating Itself?

If Russia in fact withdraws from the INF and CFE treaties, the world may move closer to a condition that could be termed "Cold War Lite." Russian production of a new generation of intermediate-range missiles that could reach Europe in 10 minutes could stimulate a new arms race. Freedom from CFE military restrictions could allow Moscow to build up troop presence in "frozen" regions like Transdniester, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.

But is this what Russia wants? The answer is probably no. Russia is simply not ready to embark on a new confrontation with the West. Russia's defense budget is still a fraction of that of the United States, and despite its recent economic progress, it was only in December 2006 that the country finally reached the level of industrial production it last held in 1990.

Furthermore, unlike the Cold War era, Russia has neither allies in Europe nor irreconcilable ideological differences with the West. Instead of Cold War Lite, Russia may simply be thirsting for an opportunity to show off its rising geopolitical and economic ambitions. With the U.S. preoccupied with Iraq and Iran, and Europe eager for trouble-free energy imports, the Kremlin might think it is a good time to ratchet up the rhetoric.

Rogue Threats Can Justify Missile Defense

By Nikola Krastev

Assistant Secretary of State Fried described the "political benefit from greater security" as "obvious" (file photo)

February 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says that it wants to build a European missile shield to protect against threats from countries it considers rogue states, including North Korea and Iran.

At a briefing in Washington, D.C., on February 22, General Trey Obering, the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, called the shield necessary to guard against surprise threats in the future.

And he said those surprises could come from states like North Korea, which has made unexpectedly rapid progress in developing its missile capabilities over the past decade.

Proliferation Threats

"In 1998, there were experts around the world and the community that were saying that the North Koreans were years and years away from being able to develop a long-range missile," Obering said. "The next month, they did so. They fired a Taepodong-1 that actually overflew Japan. It was a three-stage missile -- that also shocked a lot of experts -- and they were able to show that they could stage; they could control the missile through staging. They had all the building blocks of an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM]."

Obering cited Iran as another country hostile to Washington that is making rapid progress. "I will tell you that what we see happening in Iran is following down that same path in terms of growth and in terms of their stated intent, for example, to be able to launch a space-launch vehicle," he said. "If you're able to launch a space-launch vehicle, you have also demonstrated all of the basic building blocks for a long-range ICBM. In terms of the actual timing, we want to make sure that we have a defense in place before that occurs."

Washington says it wants its missile shield to include facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. Under the proposal, rockets capable of shooting down hostile missiles would be based in Poland while a radar tracking system would be based in the Czech Republic.

Russia Warns Of New Cold War

But Moscow strongly objects. Russian officials say they are not convinced the target is really missiles from what Washington regards as rogue states. Instead, they accuse Washington of trying to build up its military presence in Central Europe in an act reminiscent of the Cold War.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, the other U.S. official at the February 22 briefing, said Moscow has nothing to fear from the proposed shield.

"The political benefit from greater security is obvious. The political risk from insecurity, should the Iranian threat develop as it might, is also obvious," Fried said. "This system is no good against the Russian ballistic-missile capability. It has the potential to be effective against the Iranian threat, and the benefits to Europe are clear.

"I should say, though, with respect to Poland and the Czech Republic, that we have gone through some preliminary discussions, but we haven't started negotiating the details," he added. "The Poles and Czechs are going to have a lot of very legitimate questions."

Fried said questions remaining to be resolved with the Czechs and the Poles include military, financial, and legal issues.

Threat Has Changed

The two U.S. officials said Moscow must recognize that the dangers the United States faces from missiles today are very different than in the past. Obering said he has discussed that matter with General Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian General Staff, who recently warned the shield could provoke an arms race.

"But as I said before, we have been facing the Russians in the past and we have been allies with the Russians in the past," Obering said. "And as far as I'm concerned, nothing has changed with respect to that relationship. What has changed is the threat that we see emerging from the Middle East."

Asked whether there are plans for placing similar new antimissile facilities in other parts of Europe formerly within the Soviet sphere, specifically Bulgaria and Romania, Obering said that at present there are no such plans.

Czechs Respond To Proposed U.S. Missile-Defense Shield

By Irina Lagunina

Czechs protesting against the proposed radar base during a recent rally in Prague (file photo)

PRAGUE, February 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In November 1989, thousands of Czechoslovakians gathered on Wenceslas Square in central Prague to peacefully protest the half-century single-party rule of the communists.

That historic time, which came to be known as the Velvet Revolution, marked the beginning of the end of the country's role as a Soviet satellite.

Eighteen years later, the Czech Republic is a prospering new member of NATO and the European Union.

But judging from an informal poll conducted recently on Wenceslas Square, it's clear that the prospect of finding themselves in the middle of a new conflict between old superpower rivals is on the minds of ordinary Czechs.

Caught In The Middle

At the heart of the issue is a U.S. proposal to base parts of a new missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic -- a proposal that has sparked a war of words between the United States and Russia.

"Russia can say anything it wants," said a 30-something man questioned by RFE/RL. "But as [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice said, we are already an independent country and we can decide ourselves what our history will be. Russia can say anything it likes, but I think it has already said enough about these matters."

A man in his early 20s dismissed Moscow's strong opposition to the plan, including warnings that Russia might consider the radar base a strategic military target. "It's difficult," he said. "I think Russia is only talking. It won't act, because it's not going to lead a war against the United States and the rest of Europe."

A teenage boy suggested that the Czechs decide on the issue themselves. "It's not a pointless question, because it's good for our safety," he said. "But it's also a problem, because Russia is threatening to use its missiles. It would be fair if a referendum could be held so that the people themselves could decide whether it's good for them or not."
Social Democrats and other opponents of the base hope to put the issue to a public vote.

Of the handful of Czechs questioned, those most reluctant to see the system installed belonged to the older generation.

"I think [the radar system] shouldn't be here because it, de facto, endangers our safety," said one woman. "In general, this is already happening all over the world, these attacks. So we would be in danger too."

Earlier this month, the prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic indicated they were prepared to move ahead with talks about hosting parts of the defense shield.

The United States has proposed placing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an early-warning radar base in the Czech Republic. Washington says the system is meant to defend against a possible missile attacks by "rogue states," including North Korea and Iran.

But Russia sees the proposed military buildup along its former western front as unilateral aggression -- and that it will answer with the force of its own nuclear arsenal, if necessary.

For Prague and Warsaw, the dispute is an uncomfortable reminder of the Cold War era.

Defensive Stance

For some officials, however, the proposal makes good defensive sense.

"When we joined NATO, I was dealing with the issue of antiballistic-missile protection, and in 2001 I even wrote a 70-page analysis about this problem," said Jiri Payne, the national security adviser for Czech President Vaclav Klaus. "I appealed to President [Vaclav] Havel and other politicians to take care of this issue. I could see that the Czech Republic didn't face dramatic threats of a ground attack, but it seemed to me that the greatest risks for the Czech Republic could result from a missile attack."

Elsewhere, however, the plan has less support. It has met with protests from residents of Trokavec, the village southwest of Prague that is the proposed site for the radar base. The country's opposition Social Democrats are also fighting the plan.

Lubomir Zaoralek, the Social Democrats' shadow foreign minister, says it is wrong for the Czech Republic to overlook any plan that provokes distrust in Russia -- and that the details of the plan itself remain unclear.

"It's never been successfully formulated which threats this project is meant to address," Zaoralek said. "The reasons are very vague. The idea that North Korea or Iran could threaten Europe or the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles is highly improbable. It would be suicidal for those countries' leaders to think that way. In my opinion, the threat was not defined precisely enough, and at the same time, the issue wasn't discussed with the countries involved."

An official decision on whether to allow the United States to build a radar base is tentatively due to be made in the spring of 2008.

The Social Democrats and other opponents of the base hope to put the issue to a public vote before then, but so far have not secured enough support to pass a bill on holding a referendum.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the Czech government earlier this month to protest the U.S. plan.

If the U.S. plan is approved, the radar base could go into operation in 2011, with 200 personnel.

Russian Senators Block Moscow-Kazan Power-Sharing Treaty

The bill's run came to an end in the Federation Council

February 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's upper house of parliament has voted down a power-sharing agreement between the federal government and the Tatarstan Republic.

The Federation Council rejected the bill on February 21 by a vote of 93-13, with 15 abstentions.

The agreement was originally signed by Putin and Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev in October 2005. It had received the lower house's backing earlier this month.

A Blow To Tatarstan

The failure of the bill, which would have regulated the separation of powers between Tatarstan and Moscow and maintained the Tatar language's dominant status in the province, comes as a disappointment to many in Tatarstan.

"I think the reaction here in the republic will be painful, said Rashit Akhmetov, editor in chief of the independent "Zvezda Povolzhya" newspaper in Tatarstan's capital Kazan. "This is a blow to Shaimiyev's political reputation. This could be the first step toward forcing him out of Tatarstan's presidential seat, since he is one of the few free-thinking leaders from the [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin era."
"Let us not ignore the fact that while [Russia's] regions have equal rights, they are not equal." -- Tatarstan State Council Chairman Mukhammetshin

Under a treaty negotiated between Shaimiyev and Yeltsin in 1994, Tatarstan enjoys a rare degree of political and economic autonomy.

Since Putin came to power in 2000, however, the Kremlin has taken a raft of measures to extend its control over Russia's sprawling regions.

However, Putin signed off on the latest 10-year power-sharing agreement, which despite new restrictions allows the province much more autonomy than other regions.

There are fears that Tatarstan, a mostly Muslim republic with a population of almost 4 million, may try to secede from Russia, following the example of Chechnya.

And critics say the agreement could encourage separatist sentiments in other of Russia's "ethnic" republics and regions.

Dangerous Precedent?

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said before the February 22 vote that adopting the agreement would create "a dangerous political precedent" for other regions.

Tatarstan's State Council Chairman Ferid Mukhammetshin responded that such fears were unfounded.

"Let us not ignore the fact that while [Russia's] regions have equal rights, they are not equal," Mukhammetshin said. "Our economic capabilities are different, our ecological and climate conditions are different, and we should speak about it openly. Such agreements should be able to give each [region] an opportunity to find a mechanism of resolving problems in each particular territory, and a federative state should not be afraid of that."

But all is not lost for the treaty.

The State Duma has the power to overrule the upper house's rejection if the bill garners two-thirds of the votes. But it is still unclear whether such a vote is planned.