Treaty to Replace START Sought
President Vladimir Putin called on Russia and the United States on Tuesday to negotiate a new nuclear-arms treaty and urged the Russian diplomatic corps to bolster the nation's global prominence while avoiding confrontation.
Putin's comments outlining the nation's foreign policy, at a biannual address to senior Foreign Ministry officials, also touched on everything from nonproliferation to repatriating ethnic Russians to maintaining influence in the so-called near abroad.
"We call for the renewal of dialogue on key weapons-reduction issues -- proposing first of all to our American partners to launch negotiations on replacing the START treaty," Putin said. The START I treaty, which U.S. and Soviet leaders signed in 1991, set limits on strategic delivery systems for nuclear warheads. START, also known as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, further mandated verification of strategic arms cuts.
Putin's call for a new nuclear-arms treaty appeared to be an effort to bring back the era of detailed arms reductions, which dates to the Cold War. That era ended in May 2002, when Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush signed the three-page Moscow Treaty, which commits the two countries to cut their nuclear warheads. Cuts specified in the Moscow Treaty are to be verified, as dictated by START. But that verification comes to an end in 2009, when START expires.
Calling Putin's comments a "very significant development," Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, said the proposal reflected Kremlin concerns that the Moscow Treaty would be nothing more than a piece of paper once START expires.
"Theoretically, either side would be able to do what it pleases in terms of strategic arms buildup since the verification regime will no longer be in place," Safranchuk said.
Putin, he added, is keen on preserving some semblance of strategic arms parity with the United States. While Bush has had some reservations about entering into protracted arms negotiations, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak has already held talks with senior U.S. diplomats on the issue, Safranchuk said.
Kevin Ryan, senior research fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center and a former defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said Bush should take advantage of Putin's call for a new treaty.
Ryan noted there was little to be gained from lengthy negotiations, which harken back to the 1970s and 1980s, but that comprehensive treaties were valuable to the security of both countries.
Putin, in his speech, stressed that Russian-U.S. relations were critical to global stability but called for these relations to be based on equality and mutual respect -- reflecting frustrations in Moscow that Washington is convinced of U.S. superiority and routinely flouts world opinion.
Putin said he would oppose any "ultimatums that lead to a deadlock and undermine the authority of the [UN] Security Council," a reference to U.S. efforts to punish Iran for its uranium-enrichment program. And, in another reference to the confrontation with Tehran, he said "dialogue, not isolation of certain states, is the way to solve crises."
The president also struck a decidedly different tone from many foreign-policy hawks in the United States who talk of a "war of civilizations" between the West and Islam. Saying that Russia would not enter any "holy alliances," Putin said Russia supported open communication "between civilizations."
Putin made no mention of the slaying of four Russian diplomats by Islamist rebels in Iraq, confirmed Monday by the Foreign Ministry. Everyone at Tuesday's event stood for a moment of silence before the address to honor the slain diplomats.
Putin did say he supported the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the military-political alliance of former Soviet republics that, with Russia's urging, has cooperated with NATO to fight terrorism and drug trafficking and conduct peacekeeping missions.
Russia's emboldened international stance -- particularly in former Soviet republics and Western Europe, where it seeks access to energy markets -- reflects the country's growing economic clout, Putin said. "Not everyone was prepared to see Russia regain its economic health and international status so fast," he said. "Some people look at us through the prism of past prejudices and see a threat in a revivified Russia."
When it comes to charging former Soviet republics market prices for gas, running peacekeeping missions in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and maintaining forces in Moldova's restive Transdnestr region, Russia will not budge, Putin said.
Russia has supported separatist movements in Georgia and Moldova, much to the dismay of Tbilisi and Chisinau, which have demanded Russian units be replaced with international peacekeeping forces. Russia has also granted citizenship to thousands of residents in the breakaway provinces.
Alexei Malashenko, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, warned that the Kremlin's vocal support for self-determination of separatist regimes might backfire given the multiethnic character of Russia itself.
Despite the talk of a re-empowered Russia, Putin admonished diplomats to bear in mind that the same countries Russia competes with on the business front are also some of the country's key partners in other realms. "Russia," he said, "does not need confrontation in any form."