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07.05.2007. ABM: uncooperative Russia or scheming America?

Having suggested deployment of missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, and achieved their tentative consent to host them, Washington has met with not only Russia's tough reaction but also the most unpleasant irritation of its main European allies.

By offering Russia to discuss the Euro-ABM issue, the U.S. government is trying to cover up its mistake and ease tensions. It wants Moscow to make some response or pretend that we have come to terms. If this fails, Washington may present Moscow as unresponsive to its «peace initiatives.» Should we play along?

This reminds me of the European crisis in the late 1970s, when the Americans declared their intention to deploy cruise missiles and Pershing-2s ostensibly to set off the Soviet medium-range SS-20s. (The Soviet leaders made a decision to deploy SS-20s merely because the SS-16 three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile had failed the tests. A two-stage missile code-named SS-20 was a success).

At that time, many Europeans backed the U.S. plan in order to keep the United States involved in enhancing their security and prevent NATO's decline. They wanted to continue the Cold War because they felt quite comfortable under the American umbrella. The arguments of the current Czech and Polish leaders are reminiscent of the debates of 30 years ago. They are justifying their consent to host ABM components by a desire to have American protection against the increasingly powerful Russia.

In the 1970s, Moscow willingly exploited the new threat. After mutual hysterics of many years, the Soviet Union had to scrap its SS-20s, as well as the more useful shorter-range missiles.

Both sides lost, but the Soviet Union lost more. The missile crisis militarized relations in Europe and dragged out the Cold War for several more years without any sensible reason.

NATO's long-standing European members are not interested in missile defense although they do not want to continue quarreling with the United States, and are scared of Russia's rapidly growing strength. What they certainly do not want is remilitarization of European policy, which would primarily damage their interests by enhancing America's and, to a lesser extent, Russia's positions.

The Polish-based interceptor missiles will not help neutralize «the Iranian threat» because it will not emerge in the foreseeable future. Moreover, if a country wants to hit targets in Europe with warheads, missiles will be the last option for delivering them. There is a dozen simpler ways of doing so.

The interests of new NATO members were mentioned earlier, but they can be ignored altogether because these countries are not independent.

The U.S. interests are obvious, and disarming Russia's strategic potential is not likely to be one of these. Washington may hope to achieve this no sooner than in 15 years and on condition that Moscow will be totally idle.

America's primary goal is to provoke a mini crisis and remilitarization of European policy in the hope of restoring some of its badly damaged positions in Europe.

The second aim is to prevent rapprochement between the old Europeans and Russia. A growing alliance based on energy and other interests would make both Europe and Russia much stronger. This is the worst-case scenario for Washington, which is still dominated by old thinking.

The third goal is the most important — the ABM system does not hold much promise, and its advocates have to prove the contrary. They have to present it as crucial in order to keep it funded.

Russia is interested in preventing a crisis and another Cold War in Europe. It must not get drawn into the arms race, even as a farce. Russia should try to weaken the Western forces that would like to prevent its consolidation and advance. It should also refrain from confrontation with the Muslim world and China, towards which it is being pushed by the resumed talk about a joint ABM. If we are to confront the Islamic bomb, we should do it on our terms.

Russia would gain from getting strategic arms, offensive and defensive alike, back under control from which the Americans have withdrawn them. Militarily, prevention of ABM elements deployment in Europe could be the least important goal for Russia.

We should remember that our agreement to discuss missile defense systems may be presented as our consent to their deployment. When Moscow started discussing the terms for NATO's enlargement in the mid-1990s, the media immediately reported that Russia had swallowed it.

Clearly, missile defense deployment in Europe and the proposal to discuss it together conceal multiple interests of the United States. We should follow the rules of this game and talk in the same manner and without any trust.

// RIA Novosti