Putin ups stakes

PRESIDENT Putin has put the Americans on notice that his country will not put up with any designs, direct or indirect, that might affect Russian national interests. On the face of it, Putin’s strong objection to the planned deployment of American missile interceptors and radars in Eastern Europe, merits attention.

The Russian president has reasons to see this as “not just a defence shield, but a part of the US nuclear arsenal, an indispensable part of a strategic nuclear weapons system”. The implications are also that the radars might be used, as Putin rightly fears, to spy on Russia from its neighbourhood.

Putin’s immediate response to the US plans is to declare a moratorium on the 1990 arms control treaty. It meant suspension of Russia’s obligations under Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, that, though, has already been mired in problems. The treaty is far from achieving the objective of limiting use of conventional weapons in Europe, involving the NATO and the erstwhile Warsaw Pact nations. Russia’s cooperation is central to its success. It is also important that Putin’s stern posturing comes in the run-up to a meeting between the US Secretary and Nato counterparts with Russian foreign minister in Oslo, at which the missile shield plans are also set for discussions.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s terming of Putin’s statement as being ludicrous cannot be taken at its face value. Or, America’s explanation that the missile shied was planned with an eye to future geopolitical developments and is intended to protect both states (like Iran and North Korea) and non-stage groups (terrorists) which could acquire long-range strike capabilities in the medium term. If anything, Rice’s argument that the thousands of Russians warheads cannot be stopped by a few US interceptors, explains only a part of the concern; not the whole.

While the issues that America raises are serious indeed, it is imperative that the whole matter needs be discussed and genuine concerns sorted out before it moves ahead in the matter.

It is noteworthy that Putin intends to move ahead with measured steps, as has been his style so far, and as is clear from his statement: “We will not get hysterical about this. We will just take appropriate measures”. Clearly, of late, Putin is getting more exercised over American policies abroad. Hope is that things will not lead to a level where the fears of the Cold War era are resurrected for worse.

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