Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Missile Defense Highlights of Bush-Putin Sochi Meeting

On Sunday, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a joint “U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration.”

The Declaration addresses a number of issues central to U.S.-Russia relations, including missile defense, the proliferation of WMD, arms control and disarmament, Iran, North Korea, achieving WTO accession for Russia, and climate change. The full text of the Strategic Framework can be found here and the transcript of the President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin news conference Sunday in Sochi can be found here. In this post I will focus exclusively on the implications of the Sochi meeting for U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation.

The Strategic Framework declares that “Both sides expressed their interest in creating a system for responding to potential missile threats in which Russia and the United States and Europe will participate as equal partners.” Russia reiterated its opposition to the plan to deploy missile defense assets in Poland and the Czech republic and again floated its proposed alternative (which would allow the United States to (1) use data from Russian early-warning radars in Azerbaijan and Armavir, Russia and (2) station interceptors in Iraq, Turkey, or certain southern European locations). Nevertheless, Russia welcomed “the measures that the U.S. has proposed” and agreed that they would “be important and useful in assuaging Russian concerns.” Finally, the two sides resolved to step up their discussions “on issues concerning MD cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally.”

Based on Monday's media reports out of Sochi, the immediate post-meeting conventional wisdom appears to be that while Bush and Putin did not reach an agreement on missile defense in Europe, they “left behind a road map for their successors.”

In his press conference with Bush, Putin admitted to having a “certain cautious optimism,” but warned that “the devil is in the details.” Bush went a step further, describing the Declaration as a “significant breakthrough.”

Though the tone of U.S.-Russia relations on missile defense has certainly been marked by less acrimony in recent months, characterizing Sunday’s Declaration as a “significant breakthrough” is wildly off the mark. In terms of the substance of the disagreement between the U.S. and Russia, no real progress was made. Said Putin: “I would like to be very clear on this. Our fundamental attitude to the American plans has not changed.”

In the end, the two sides agreed to continue to discuss various confidence-building measures and proposals (described here, here, and here) which, if agreed to, would “be important and useful in assuaging Russian concerns.” Yet as Putin noted, “the devil is in the details,” and the reality is that the details (1) remain embryonic and (2) could prove to be as controversial as the proposed system itself. In the words of White House Press Secretary Dana Perino:

We’re going to have to do more work after Sochi… No one has said that everything would be finalized and everyone would be satisfied with all the preparations because we haven't even started to work on the technical aspects of the system… We’re still in the early part of these discussions [emphasis mine].

In other missile defense news, during last week’s NATO Summit in Bucharest, it was announced that the United States and the Czech Republic reached an agreement on placing an early warning radar base in the Czech Republic. However, as was noted in this space last month, it is likely to take some time before the base is deployed. What’s more, it remains to be seen how Prague will react to a formal U.S. proposal to allow Russia access to the radar base, which is one of the confidence-building measures currently being discussed by U.S. and Russian officials.

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