Smart power: Russia backs out of 20-year deal to dismantle WMD
It looks like Vladimir isn’t going to wait around for Obama to become more “flexible” after the election, as the American president famously promised during an unfortunate “hot mike” slip-up. The New York Times reports that the Russians have announced the end of a long-standing partnership to dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons:
The Russian government said Wednesday that it would not renew a hugely successful 20-year partnership with the United States to safeguard and dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union when the program expires next spring, a potentially grave setback in the already fraying relationship between the former cold war enemies.
The Kremlin’s refusal to renew the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program would put an end to a multibillion-dollar effort, financed largely by American taxpayers, that is widely credited with removing all nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus; deactivating more than 7,600 strategic nuclear warheads; and eliminating huge stockpiles of nuclear missiles and chemical weapons, as well as launchers and other equipment and military sites that supported unconventional weapons.
The Russians claim this should come as no surprise to American officials, although Senator Lugar, who will soon depart the Senate after losing his primary race, says he thought the Russians wanted to modify the agreement, rather than terminating it.
The Times notes that the Russians are also booting out the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has also been working in the country for twenty years, but has lately developed an unfortunate habit of detecting election fraud. There’s a general sense that Moscow is flexing its muscles and clearing out American influence.
One of the really big thorns in the Russians’ side is missile defense in Europe, which the Times says Obama has “shown little willingness” to make concessions on, although that’s not what he told then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev when he thought the microphones were off. In fact, missile defense was exactly what they were talking about when Obama said he would be more flexible after the election. The conversation went like this:
OBAMA: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space.
MEDVEDEV: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…
OBAMA: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.
MEDVEDEV: I understand. I transmit this information to Vladimir.
Perhaps the transmission current Russian president Vladimir Putin is receiving more clearly these days is the shifting American electoral landscape. Mitt Romney certainly hasn’t been offering any “flexibility” on missile defense. He’s been describing Russia as our top geopolitical adversary.
Or maybe this is all about Russia’s unwillingness to countenance further disarmament of its more lively vassal states. The New York Times article concludes with:
During his August visit to Moscow, Mr. Lugar said he hoped that the United States and Russia could use their past successes as a basis for expanding their efforts to reduce the threat of unconventional weapons in other countries. He raised the idea of trying to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria.
Russian officials, however, seem increasingly unwilling to let the United States set the agenda in global diplomacy — blocking demands, for example, for more aggressive intervention in Syria.
These developments go a long way toward vindicating critics of Obama’s 2010 START treaty, which was assailed for giving away too much to the Russians. That treaty was supposed to be a “reset button” with Russia, but it looks like they’re more interested in the “delete” button.