Moscow has escalated its rhetoric by several notches over the United States' strategic build-up in Romania and in the Black Sea region. Moscow warned that Washington is putting at risk the US-Russia reset in relations. Speaking at the Duma [Parliament] on Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov underlined that if Washington continues to develop the European ABM system by disregarding Russia's concerns, START accord will be in jeopardy.
"The establishment of the ABM system in Europe, which threatens Russia’s security, may be recognized as an exceptional circumstance for Russia’s withdrawal from the strategic arms reduction treaty. We think it is necessary to sign a juridically binding agreement between Russia and the US which set the principles and the limits of interaction on the European ABM system and makes it possible to organize efficient monitoring of missile threats," Ryabkov said.
From present indications, Washington has no intentions of acceding to Moscow's demand to conclude a "juridically binding agreement". Secretary of Defence Robert Gates pointed out recently that the US Congress won’t ratify such an agreement. Gates instead suggested “political guarantees” to Russia. But then, Moscow knows from experience that such "political guarantees" are worthless. The most celebrated case was the West's assurance to Mikhail Gorbachev that once the Warsaw Pact was disbanded, NATO wouldn't move eastward "an inch".
Equally, it is highly unlikely Moscow will pull out of START, since the accords allow Russia to retain "strategic balance" with the US. Washington knows it, too. If so, why is Moscow escalating the rhetoric? One explanation could be that Moscow is grandstanding with the hope of extracting some measurable progress at the expert-level talks regarding cooperation between Russia and US and NATO over missile defence. Moscow no doubt feels frustrated that the talks are stalling and the US and NATO are quietly going ahead with the ABM deployments in the meanwhile. The ABM will figure during the meeting between Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama at the G8 summit later this month in Deauville.
What remains to be seen is the extent of any US-Russian trade-offs at Deauville. Washington is in need of cooperative attitude from Moscow on certain key foreign policy issues -- Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, etc. Washington knows Russians are usually pragmatic in closed-door talks. Medvedev, in particular, is a staunch votary of the reset in US-Russia relations. He also needs to display the success of the reset. It suits the Obama administration to resort to a policy of masterly inactivity and let reset drift a while and then throw in some trade-offs. Medvedev's scheduled press conference in Moscow on Wednesday will throw some light on how far the Kremlin is prepared to go to press its case.