Friday, June 08, 2007

Putin Offers Sleight of Hand Deal

Faced with unwavering resolve on the part of the US to develop a missile defense shield in Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reversed course to propose a "partnership" in the venture. The Russian proposal, though, is to simply use an existing radar station in Azerbaijan (currently under Russian lease) rather than building new US controlled radar stations in the Czech Republic and elsewhere. (Washington Post: Putin Offers to Join Missile Shield Effort.)

The publicly stated intent behind the European missile shield is to defend against potential long range attacks from Iran. Russia's position on the missile shield is that it would signal a new arms escalation from the West and would require the former Soviet empire to re-target its own missiles back towards European nations. The offer to engage in a missile defense partnership was proposed several times by the US, first by Reagan as part of the SDI project and again by President Bush in 1990. The partnership offers continued through the Clinton administration and into the current Bush administration. Until yesterday, all partnership offers were summarily rejected by Russia.

What yesterday's offer by Putin does, however, is not introduce a partnership. It places control of the entire missile shield project directly into the hands of Russian controlled facilities and personnel. Fortunately, there is no US commitment to accept this sleight-of-hand, and it will likely fall apart before Air Force One even leaves European air space.

One of the biggest problems with the proposed deal is centered around Russia's economic and military ties with Iran, the very nation cited as one of the reasons for the need for the shield in the first place. Iran does not currently have long range missiles capable of reaching Europe, however the technology to develop such missiles is currently being provided by both Russia and China. Existing Shihab-3 and Shihab-4 missiles with a range of close to 3000 kilometers were developed with Chinese and Russian assistance. Additionally, Russia is the primary supplier of Iran's current nuclear technology research which, as you may be aware, is the subject of much angst in the UN Security Council.

Forgive me if I don't trust Putin's motives in proposing this partnership. I'm a bit skeptical about using Russian staffed radar facilities to monitor a nation with whom Russia is directly partnered. President Bush may have looked into Putin's eyes and seen a good and honest man. When I look into them, I see a KGB hard-liner that is still pining for the good old days of the Soviet Union. The only response practical with regards to the Russian partnership offer is a resounding "Nyet". They are more than welcome to work with us in developing the missile shield using new facilities throughout Europe, but there is absolutely no way we can accept the use of an existing facility under Russian control at the expense of those newer developments. Let us not forget the old Russian proverb that says, "Trust but verify". Let's not be overly naive about Putin's motives. Let's not be foolish enough to trust Iran's ally in the development of an anti-Iranian missile shield.

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