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U.S., Russia Still Split Over Arms Cuts

Negotiations: American leaves talks early. The nations differ over fate of deactivated nuclear warheads and verification of any reductions.

April 25, 2002|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Negotiations between the United States and Russia on an accord to dramatically cut offensive nuclear weapons hit an apparent snag Wednesday, with a top U.S. negotiator departing early from scheduled talks and a senior Russian official saying that an agreement is not a certainty.

Defense analysts here said the stumbling block was most likely the Russian military, which does not wish to see President Vladimir V. Putin making any more significant concessions to Washington.

At issue is a proposed agreement for each country to cut the number of its strategic nuclear weapons to between 1,700 and 2,200, a significant reduction from their current levels of between 6,000 and 7,000 warheads each, by 2010.

Putin sought the pact because his government is hard-pressed to continue paying the cost of maintaining its vast arsenal of nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War but does not wish to be forced to make big cutbacks unilaterally.

But some retired Russian generals, who are thought to reflect the concerns of the country's military establishment, have said publicly that they are opposed to the deal because the United States intends only to stockpile, and not destroy, its deactivated weapons.

Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov, who was leading the Russian side in the current round of talks, conceded on Russian television that it was still questionable whether an agreement would be reached--particularly in time for President Bush's planned summit with Putin in Moscow late next month, as both sides had hoped.

"We can't yet say whether we will have this treaty or not, because there are certain differences in terms of accountability of the reductions [and] the methods of reduction," he told state-controlled ORT television's late-night news show Wednesday. He said the chief stumbling block was how to verify weapons cuts and ensure that they are permanent.

U.S. officials would not specify a reason for the early departure Wednesday from Moscow of U.S. Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton and his arms-reduction team after one day of talks, when two days were originally planned.

Officials noted, however, that discussions between the countries could resume as early as this weekend, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage visits Moscow, or on May 3, when U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov are due to have their next meeting, in Washington.

Before the talks began Tuesday, Bolton sounded optimistic, saying that "the relationship between the United States and Russia has fundamentally changed" and that the new agreement would be crafted to reflect that change.

However, a lingering resentment remains in Russia, especially among senior generals, over past concessions to the United States, military and political analysts here believe.

Retired Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, for one, told a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday that he considered it "mad" for Russia to proceed with any treaty that would leave it at a numerical disadvantage in land-based nuclear weapons, which would occur if the United States merely stored its deactivated arsenal while Russia destroyed its weaponry to save funds.

From the hard-liners' viewpoint, Russia in the last year has been too docile--eventually accepting the announced U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and giving a cautious green light to a U.S. military presence in Central Asia and Georgia, former Soviet lands that many here still regard as part of Russia's strategic sphere of influence.

Putin's decision last year to withdraw the remaining Russian troops from Soviet-era bases in Vietnam and Cuba without getting any specific concessions from the United States in return also has rankled some in the military establishment.

"Despite the political will to sign this new reduction agreement, there is a lot of resistance to it among the Defense Ministry top brass and Foreign Ministry diplomats who don't quite appreciate such a close cooperation between Russia and the United States in this sensitive sphere," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent defense analyst who writes for several Russian newspapers.

He said the generals therefore were looking for "mostly minor technical points to make a fuss about and thus snag the talks."

Resistance is stiff in the military, agreed Viktor A. Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA-Canada Institute, a Moscow think tank. "President Putin is a commander in chief of the armed forces. But what can he do when the generals on the general staff and the Defense Ministry tell him that we can't go on with such reductions and concessions? Fire them all?"

Even though the president remains popular, "part of the society and the political establishment wonder whether Putin is not sick with Gorbachev and Kozyrev disease," Kremenyuk said. He was referring to former Communist leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Boris N. Yeltsin's former foreign minister, Andrei V. Kozyrev, both of whom have been vilified by nationalists in Russia as having caved in to the West.

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