Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defense Ministers Seal Ties

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Russia agreed Tuesday to increase defense cooperation in areas ranging from nuclear arms destruction to military reform despite bitter Russian opposition to NATO enlargement.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov signed agreements to set up joint working groups on anti-missile defense, peacekeeping and post-Soviet reform of Russia's impoverished armed forces.

"There are many problems in which the United States can offer us a great help," Rodionov said at a joint press conference. "You have great experience on this issue [of democratic military reform], and we need to learn it."

"The consequences of the Cold War for us are equal to the consequences of the Vietnam War for you," he said of the need to shrink and revitalize Russia's military, saving costs and developing a professional noncommissioned officer corps.

Both ministers urged Russia's lower house of Parliament, the Duma, to approve the START-2 nuclear arms reduction treaty, and Rodionov assured Washington that Moscow's nuclear arsenal was under safe control despite reports this week of technical problems with strategic missiles.

Cohen announced a $52.4 million contract to the U.S. Lockheed Martin Corp. to help set up a facility in Russia to destroy missile canisters and rocket fuel from 410 decommissioned Russian submarine and land-based silos.

Rodionov called the meeting a "very dynamic start" to two days of talks with top U.S. officials, including White House National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The Russian minister said he welcomed U.S. Defense Department cooperation in a wide range of areas, but he reiterated Moscow's firm opposition to NATO enlargement to include former Communist countries in Eastern Europe.

"In general, I personally think, and will think, that this is a mistake to expand NATO eastward. And this problem may actually damage our relationship," Rodionov told reporters.

In Moscow, the latest negotiations between NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov dragged into the night Tuesday as the sides tried to reach agreement on a proposed Russia-NATO charter. Primakov said the talks will determine if the accord will be ready by the target date of May 27. (See story, Page 2.)

Rodionov denied a report in Monday's Washington Times that some Russian strategic nuclear missiles had accidentally gone on alert because of technical difficulties in equipment. He said he had heard of no such problem.

"We do experience some shortages in funding, in financing our armed forces," Rodionov said. "But nevertheless, the strategic nuclear forces have the same level of funding as they used to have for many years.

"And I want to assure you that we will do everything possible to ensure that the safety and protection of our nuclear arsenals would never decrease."

Rodionov also said despite another report in the Washington Times, he now was a strong supporter of the START-2 treaty, which would cut nuclear arsenals in the United States and Russia to fewer than 3,500 warheads each.

The Duma has so far refused to approve that treaty although the U.S. Senate ratified it last year.

Cohen said that the Pentagon was "eager" to provide Russia with specific technical help and cooperation on anti-missile cooperation in order to protect Russia's people and military forces from attack. But he said such direct technical cooperation must wait on a formal statement of agreement.

The Pentagon is currently studying U.S. military strategy and force structure in order to cut costs for weapons modernization. Cohen joked that he wanted to seek help from his Russian counterpart to get Congress to agree to any additional painful closing of military bases in America.

"I am going to help Mr. Rodionov -- give him advice on how to close Russian bases. And he is going to help me persuade the Congress that we should do the same," Cohen said.