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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summit Veils Mutual Distrust

During President Boris Yeltsin's visit to New York and Washington this week, Russia and the United States -- in the spirit of Gorbachev, Bush and the era of "new thinking" -- exchanged grandiose schemes for nuclear disarmament, a new worldwide security system and other such amiable rhetoric.


However, while during the second half of the 1980s Moscow and Washington were sincere in their desire to reduce tensions, now the friendly rhetoric has become more of a mask to hide a growing mutual distrust.


Of course, Russia and the United States share common strategic interests. Both nuclear superpowers are interested in supporting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They both support strict international controls over the transfer of dangerous nuclear materials and missile technology, and both are interested in continuing the process of nuclear disarmament. But even the pace and strategy of the disarmament process are sources of serious contention between them.


The Russian armed forces chiefs, in principle, have nothing against a significant reduction of Russia's strategic nuclear potential. The Defense Ministry knows full well that in the near future they will not have the funds to develop and deploy a successor to the SS-18 strategic missile. Moreover, those missiles will have to be liquidated for purely technical reasons sometime early in the next century as they become too old to be safe. However, Russia's generals insist on keeping Russia's silo-based missiles under any disarmament scenario.


General Gregory Govan, the director of the U.S. On-Site Inspection Agency, recently told me, "The Russians are currently producing six new SS-25s every month, modified to be based in silos." This is true despite problems with the defense budget. The Defense Ministry plans to continue deploying the SS-25 until the year 2020.


Both civilian and military advisers to President Yeltsin believe that the Americans are willing to "sacrifice" their aging Minuteman III missiles in order to deprive Russia of the SS-25, its most reliable and accurate land-based missile. The Americans argue that all land-based missiles are inherently "destabilizing."


An ever increasing number of influential people in Moscow suspect that America is seeking to deprive Russia of its last vestige of superpower status, a credible nuclear deterrent, in order to gain a free hand in world affairs. And this is not just the opinion of generals, intelligence experts and opposition deputies in the State Duma. Many of the richest "new Russians" -- bankers and financiers -- are speaking openly these days of America's insidious plans to enslave Russia. These people, who have enormous influence in the administration and in pro-reform factions in the Duma, think that stories in the Western press about the alleged activities of various Russian mafias -- both nuclear and otherwise -- are aimed at keeping Russian capitalists from gaining equal access to international financial operations.


When the American Congress passed -- practically without debate -- a resolution stipulating sanctions against Russia if it did not withdraw its forces from Estonia by Aug. 31, Moscow was stunned. Many viewed the resolution as the realization of the ideas of former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who has been calling for a sterner policy toward Russia.


Therefore, the preparations for Yeltsin's visit to Washington were undertaken in something of a panic in Moscow, particularly when it became known that the Americans were considering proposing a complete ban on tactical nuclear weapons. Russia may well need a tactical deterrent in local conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia, but the American's tactical weapons have become superfluous.


Yeltsin's advisers were worried that he might suddenly agree to some disadvantageous terms, so they prepared a program of peace initiatives in order to put the Americans off balance. Also, a group of advisers accompanied Yeltsin with the intention of keeping him from agreeing to anything "improper." Among them is Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who until the very last moment had not intended to make the trip.


It has become clear that a coalition of influential groups that are deeply suspicious of the United States has become quite strong in Moscow. Undoubtedly, an analogous coalition exists in Washington.


There will most likely be no substantial breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations soon, no matter what Yeltsin and Clinton may agree on.





Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.