Monday, April 23, 2007

Gates in Moscow move to ease fears on 'shield'

Gates in Moscow move to ease fears on 'shield'
By Neil Buckley in Moscow and Demitri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 23 2007 03:00 | Last updated: April 23 2007 03:00

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, was today expected to hold meetings in Moscow with Kremlin officials, including President Vladimir Putin, aimed at easing concerns about US plans to install a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russian officials said Mr Gates would hold talks in Moscow today, although the US would not confirm the timing of his visit.

The visit comes as US-Russian relations have sunk to their lowest ebb since the collapse of the Soviet Union 15 years ago. In February, Mr Putin stunned an audience of security experts in Munich, which included Mr Gates, with a strong attack on US foreign policy.

The US insists that its plans to install missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic are aimed at defending against missile threats from Iran. But Moscow remains deeply suspicious of Washington's intentions.

Moscow has sent signals that it is no longer prepared to be pushed around, as it sees it, by the west. It also feels betrayed by Nato's expansion to the east after promises in the 1990s that this would not happen.

Sergei Ivanov, who for six years was Russian defence min-ister, admitted last week that the missile defence system posed no medium-term threat to Russia, but raised questions about the need for the system. Some Russian officials believe any Iranian threat can be met by increasing pressure on the regime.

"Since there aren't and won't be [Iranian and North Korean] ICBMs, then against whom is this system directed? Only against us," Mr Ivanov said.

US officials say they have offered to co-operate with Russia on missile defence but have received no response. Mr Ivanov said Russia had proposed to the US five years ago to create a joint anti-missile defence system, which could deal with Iran's existing medium-range missiles, possibly using Russian S-300 and US Patriot missiles. But last week Mr Ivanov said he saw "no grounds" for co-operating with the US in this way.

Another subject for discussion is likely to be Russia's desire to pull out of or revise the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

In his Munich speech, Mr Putin warned that Russia was handicapped from protecting itself from the proliferation of medium-range missiles because of the INF treaty.

Some experts have suggested that Russia does not want to pull out of the INF if possible, and that Mr Putin was trying to spark a debate about expanding the treaty to include countries that are increasing their medium-range missile capabilities, such as North Korea.


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