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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gates' Pre-Summit Ploy

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With three weeks remaining before the U.S.-Russia summit, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates caught analysts in both countries by surprise. Speaking before the Senate committee on June 9, Gates dropped a diplomatic bombshell. He claimed that Moscow has now admitted that the threat from Iran's missile program is near.

If what Gates said is true, it would mean that the Kremlin will need to support the Pentagon's plan to create a global missile defense system to counter the imminent threat from Tehran. What's more, Gates claimed that talks are already under way for Russia to join the United States in some form of "partnership" to develop the so-called "third position" -- in Poland and the Czech Republic -- of the U.S. global missile defense system. The possibility of deploying U.S. radar installations or establishing or joint centers for the exchange of information on Russian territory to monitor missiles in foreign countries is supposedly also under consideration.

Russia is not against cooperating with the United States on monitoring potential missile threats on Russian territory. In fact, two years ago then-President Vladimir Putin caused a stir at a Group of Eight summit with an offer to the United States to use Russia's radar installations in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and Armavir in southern Russia. The problem is that Moscow has placed one condition on any joint U.S.-Russian monitoring project that Washington will find unacceptable: The United States must revoke its plans to deploy missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic.

To be sure, any joint monitoring projects on Russian territory would be superficial and largely symbolic because Russia's radar installations lack the targeting capability to shoot down strategic missiles. Moreover, Russia's missile defense system is largely incompatible with the U.S. system.

But that is not the main problem. As retired general and military analyst Vladimir Dvorkin has rightly pointed out, the larger problem is that any cooperation on missile defense would effectively nullify Russia's military doctrine of deterring the United States. The country's military and political leaders are not willing to change this outdated Cold War doctrine even 18 years after the war ended. As long as the Kremlin clings to this doctrine, a joint U.S.-Russian missile defense system is impossible by definition. After all, how can you build a missile defense system with a partner that you still fear will deliver a first nuclear strike?

Containing the United States remains the basis of Russia's foreign and defense policies. This explains why Moscow goes to such pains to maintain nuclear parity with Washington. Parity allows Russia to feed itself the pleasant illusion that it is still in the big league with the United States and that it is still a superpower.

No government official would confirm anything Gates said. On the contrary, the chief of the military's Strategic Missile Forces, Nikolai Solovtsov, told members of the Defense Ministry's Public Council of plans to develop Russia's nuclear potential to penetrate any missile defense shield that the Americans build. "By 2016, missile systems and systems for the tactical command of troops and weapons will undergo qualitative improvements, especially by augmenting the ability to penetrate missile defense and increasing the survival capacity of our strike potential," Solovtsov said.

The Foreign Ministry also joined in. Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said, "Only a rejection by the United States of plans to create a ... missile defense system in Europe could lay the groundwork for our fully fledged dialogue on questions of cooperation in reacting to potential missile risks." In other words, Moscow insists that the U.S. missile defense system represents a threat to Russia's security. "We cannot cooperate in creating systems that are, by nature, intended to weaken Russia's strategic containment capabilities," Nesterenko said.

The statements by Solovtsov and Nesternko should not come as a surprise to Gates. In fact, he may very well have been counting precisely on this reaction. Washington is unhappy with the way the negotiations on the replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty are going so far. The Russian side has put forward unreasonable conditions and has shown little interest in making any compromises.

Gates may be deploying a crafty PR ploy to isolate Russia by exposing to the world that the Kremlin's foreign policy is still very much driven by a Cold War mentality. Just imagine U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Moscow for the highly anticipated summit with President Dmitry Medvedev. After having offered peace proposals all over the world, he comes to Moscow and proposes that both sides push a concrete "reset" button by working as partners on a missile defense system in Central Europe. Since few in the West believe Russia's worn-out excuse that U.S. missile defense plans are aimed at undermining Russia's national security, the Kremlin's firm condition that Washington must first back down on its project in Poland and the Czech Republic will reveal that Russia's tactic is pure stonewalling -- and that it is determined to start a new Cold War-style standoff.

Gates may have had another target in mind when he made his sensational statement on the eve of the July U.S.-Russia summit -- Putin. "When I first met with President Putin and talked about this, he basically dismissed the idea that the Iranians would have a missile [capable of reaching Europe]," Gates told the Senate panel. "And the fact of the matter is, the Russians have come back to us and acknowledged that we were right in terms of the nearness of the Iranian missile threat."

Gates then told the Senate that during this conversation with Putin, he recommended that Putin find a new intelligence agency. Gates is essentially claiming that Putin's intelligence services are either woefully incompetent or knowingly gave him false information about Iran's missile program. Perhaps Gates is hinting to Medvedev that it is high time to renounce his mentor's legacy.

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