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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Offensive Diplomacy

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Negotiations among nations are usually needed when they want to smooth over disagreements. But the negotiations last week between U.S. and Russian high-ranking military and diplomatic officials demonstrate that conflicts are often artificially created to justify endless rounds of negotiations.

In the last talks, it was clear that Moscow and Washington hold diametrically opposed positions on the missile defense issue, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and how best to control nuclear arms proliferation after the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I expires in 2009.

New U.S. offers were unsatisfactory for Russia. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained that Moscow's proposal to develop a missile defense system jointly with the United States was impracticable because of "diverging views of the nature of the threat." The second impediment is Washington's unwillingness to fulfill Moscow's demand that it immediately freeze negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic regarding the deployment of missile defense elements in those countries.

In addition, President Vladimir Putin threw another issue into the pot that will require extended negotiations without any realistic chance of resolution. The Kremlin is unhappy with the situation concerning the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This is why Putin has threatened to back out of this treaty: "I think it will be difficult for us to remain within the framework of that agreement when other states are actively developing weapons systems, including countries in immediate proximity to our borders."

Russia's stance is a classic case of "offensive diplomacy," the main goal of which is to put forward demands that the other side could never meet. The only countries near Russia that could conceivably be developing medium-range nuclear missiles are Iran and North Korea. But Washington has little influence with those nations, to put it mildly. Was Putin trying to hint to the United States that he will try to convince Iran during his visit to the country for the next two days to cancel the development of the Shikhab missile?

Actually, if one were to take Putin's words seriously, then they completely contradict Lavrov's declaration regarding the two countries' "diverging views." If the United States, by placing elements of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe, intends to intercept enemy missiles, then Moscow -- if you follow Putin's logic -- intends to back out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in order to develop its own medium-range missiles and to threaten other countries with the ability to launch a nuclear counterstrike.

But in reality, all of this is devoid of military logic. Two decades ago, medium-range missiles were important cards in the U.S.-Soviet strategic poker game. But today, Russia holds the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal and does not need medium-range missiles at all to deter any country on the planet. In addition, trying to deter radical countries such as Iran by the threat of inflicting unacceptable damage is of questionable effectiveness anyway, because they are willing to sacrifice their people for the sake of extremist ideologies.

The only reasonable explanation for Putin's declaration is that he's attempting to create a bargaining chip in an elaborate political game with Washington.

A little over two years ago, then- Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov unsuccessfully tried to scare then-U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by threatening that Russia would back out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Both then and now, U.S. State Department representatives calmly responded that this threat was nothing new and that Moscow had used this tactic many times before.

For these reasons, the negotiations ended with nothing accomplished. But this does not necessarily mean that the negotiators failed. I suspect that both sides knew very well from the start that nothing would be achieved in these talks. The most important thing, however, was the negotiations themselves -- the opportunity to talk about anything that presumably affects the national interests of each side. Moreover, Moscow is attempting to engage Washington with military questions during Russia's election season. And the U.S. administration, for its part, is thrilled at the opportunity to count warheads.

The fact that an agreement was reached by high-ranking military and diplomatic officials to resume negotiations in six months -- that is, after the March 2008 presidential election -- indicates that both sides are eager to continue discussing military questions under any circumstances.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.