Medvedev's Statement on Missile Defense Might Mean Russia Postpones Further Dialogue Until 2013
Dmitry Medvedev's recent statement on military responses to missile defense sounds more threatening than it actually is.
Senor Fellow, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation/Center for Nonprolfieration Studies
Posted: December 2, 2011
Dmitry Medvedev's November 23, 2011, statement on military
response to planned U.S. and NATO missile defense system sounds more threatening
than it actually is. While on the surface it threatens an arms race, in fact it
seems to be a declaration that Moscow withdraws from a serious dialogue until
after U.S. presidential elections, i.e., until 2013. The statement appears to be
setting the stage for negotiations — or a deadlock — with the next
administration, whether Democratic or Republican.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tried to make news recently by
announcing a set of measures to counter planned U.S. missile defense deployments
in Europe. Medvedev complained on
November 23, 2011, that a promise of U.S. and NATO cooperation on missile
defense cooperation with Russia had not materialized, and the United States was
moving ahead with destabilizing deployments while refusing to give Russia a
necessary legally binding commitment that the future system would not undermine
its deterrence capability.
The statement failed to generate much of an international response and the
main target, the Obama administration, indicated that the White House would not
change its position on either the missile defense system or on the dialogue with
Russia. Indeed, Moscow itself
immediately sought to tone down the confrontational tone: Russian Deputy
Minister of Defense, AnatoliAntonov (former chief Russian negotiator for the
2010 New START Treaty) explained that Russia was not starting a new arms
The list of measures announced by Medvedev appears to be a haphazard
collection ofprograms that the Russian military has already been implementing or
has wanted to undertake for a long time:
- Medvedev ordered the military to commission, as soon as
possible, a new early warning radar in Kaliningrad Oblast, an exclave of Russian
territory between Poland and Lithuania. That radar, which belongs to a
new type, Voronezh-DM, has actually been operating for more than a year in
"test mode"—meaning that the finished system was
being tested and fine-tuned. According to some reports, it
was supposed to be fully commissioned just prior to Medvedev's statement,
but the procedure was postponed so the president could go to Kaliningrad on
November 29 to commission it
himself. The radar is part of a
long-term plan to restore the network of early warning radars that
collapsedafter the breakup of the Soviet Union. This is the third radar
installation (the first two were built in Leningrad Oblast and Krasnodar Oblast)
and more are foreseen. The radar in Kaliningrad would have been constructed even
if Russia and the United States had reached an agreement on missile defense: the
two issues are simply unrelated.
- Medvedev promised to strengthen the defense of Russian
strategic forces (presumably from air and missile strikes). Once again,
there is nothing new in this supposed threat; the Russian military have been
concerned for some time about U.S. capability to take out Russian strategic
weapons using advanced conventional assets (the accuracy of that perception is a
different matter). The newly created Airspace Defense Troops will have the
defense of strategic assets as part of their mission. The main challenge is
producing air and missile defense systems that would support that mission. Only
days before Medvedev's statement, the Ministry of Defense announced it had
signed contracts to begin construction of two plants that would produce S-400
and the future S-500 systems. Once
again, Medvedev's statement mentions a program started long before and
would continue regardless of whether any progress is achieved on missile defense
issues with the United States and NATO.
- Strategic missiles, both land- and sea-based, will be equipped
with advanced defense penetration warheads. Unlike the previous two
points, this one directly addresses the presumed capability of the future U.S.
and NATO missile defense to undermine Russian deterrence capability; the new
warhead is supposed to be able to penetrate that defense ensuring that the
strategic balance would remain intact. However, this promise is not new either:
according to publicly available information, the first full-scale test of the
maneuvering warhead "Igla" was conducted in
2005; and R&D on the system
began at least in the late 1990s.There have been multiple reports that the new
ICBM systemYars, whose deployment began in 2010, and the new
SLBMBulava will carry these
warheads.Thus, this program has no
relationship to the failure of negotiations on missile defense in 2011 and will,
in all likelihood, continue whether the future negotiations succeed or
- Medvedev declared that Russian Armed Forces would develop the
capability to destroy the command and control systems for missile
defense. Precise details of what this means are unknown, but many have
interpreted this mean cyber warfare. Another possible interpretation (not
necessarily ruling out the first one) is that Moscow will add command and
control centers associated with missile defense to the list of targets in Europe
and the United States. Ever since 2000,Russia's Military Doctrine provided
for strikes (including nuclear strikes) against U.S. and NATO command, control
and communication centers in response to an
attack. The 2010 Military Doctrine
retained that strategy, although it tightened conditions for the use of nuclear
weapons. Thus, expansion of the
targets list ifthe missile defense system is deployed on the scale and with
capabilities Russia considers dangerous was only to be expected under the
- "If the above-mentioned measures would be
insufficient," said Medvedev, Russia would deploy short-range Iskander
missiles capable of striking missile defense sites "in the West and in the
South of Russia," including in Kaliningrad Oblast. This statement appears
to be a return to the policy Medvedev himself announced in 2008when he warned
that if the Bush administration proceeded with deployment of missile defense
interceptors in Poland then Russia would deploy Iskander missiles in
Kaliningrad Oblast. After the
Obama administration cancelled earlier plans and announced the Phased Adaptive
Approach to missile defense, Moscow withdrew its threat about Iskanders,
but with visible reluctance. It seemed reasonably clear that the linkage between
missile defense and the new short-range missiles was at least in part artificial
and served primarily to justify the planned
missiles had to be deployed in the main Russian territory, although still in the
vicinity of the Baltic states. Since the reach of these assets from the new
location is smaller, the cancellation was clearly a defeat for the Russian
military. Now the same old plan appears to be back and under the same pretext.
Deployment of Iskanders appears to fit perfectly with the
decade-old policy of developing long-range conventional precision-strike strike
assets to provide the Russian military with the same warfighting options U.S.
military has had for two decades and to reduce eventually reliance on nuclear
weapons. Development of long-range air- and sea-launched conventional cruise
missiles falls into the same category. That mission of Iskanders goes far
beyond Europe; only a few months ago, a member of the Public Council of the
Ministry of Defense, Igor Korotchenko (who often says things the military is
reluctant to admit publicly), disclosed that in the future Iskanders
might be deployed in the South of Russia in the vicinity of
Georgia. Other Russian experts
suggested as possible deployment areas other southern regions (to deter states
to the South of Russia, such as Afghanistan) and the Far East (vis-à-vis
China and Japan). The Ministry
of Defense announced the plan to acquire 120 Iskander launchers by
2020 — only a share of
them will apparently be deployed in the West of Russia.
It is also important to note what was not in Medvedev's
statement — the threat to withdraw from the INF Treaty and to deploy
longer-range missiles. In fact, Dimtri Rogozin, the permanent representative of
Russia to NATO, stated that no such plans
existed.That would have been a
genuine threat and could have given Russia capability to destroy all missile
defense assets in Europe; in the past, Russian officials have more than once
raised the specter of withdrawal from the INF Treaty. Yet, this potentially most
powerful threat was not invoked. Instead, Medvedev listed policies that had been
underway for years, indirectly proving that the intent of his statement was
political rather than military.
Intent behind the Statement
If the Russian "response" to the failure to reach an
accommodation on U.S. missile defense plans is not really a response, but a
restatement of some defense programs already underway, then why was this
statement made at all? Several levels of explanation are possible, although the
most obvious ones are probably not correct.
The first and the most straightforward one is that the statement was simply
intended to demonstrate displeasure with the absence of progress. For that,
however, one did not need to make such a high-profile, public statement,
especially since it seems to close the page on generally positive relations that
have been established with the Obama administration.
The statement might also be a calculated move to justify the military
modernization programs that are already underway. If Moscow "sells"
them as a response to U.S. and NATO policies, there is smaller chance that
Russia will be criticized for creating an arms race. Since most of the programs
listed in Medvedev's statement are scheduled to enter the phase of
large-scale production and deployment in the next one or two years, it would
only make sense to start the public relations campaign now.
Another explanation, which many rushed to promote, is electoral politics.
In December, Russia holds elections for the State Duma, the lower house of the
parliament, and in the spring presidential elections. Indeed,maintaining a hard
line in foreign policy has been one of Vladimir Putin's favorite election
techniques. Yet, it hardly adds much to the existing political lineup; although
the ruling party, United Russia, appears to be losing popularity, there is no
serious opposition to speak of while Putin's own election is assured.
Moreover, the tough statement was made, for a change, by the outgoing president,
Another reason why domestic politics might not be the main motive is the
simple fact that the statement was primarily oriented toward external audience.
Similar, if usually less detailed, statements had been made for domestic
audience many times before.
Yet another possibility that appears too remote to justify a major policy
statement is a plan to give Putin an opportunity to demonstrate flexibility and
readiness to cooperate at a later date, after the presidential election, if
needed. On the other hand, the plan is too complicated and, in truth, there was
no need to up the ante—Putin has the reputation of being a hardliner and
he does not need a hardline policy established by his predecessor to shock the
world with flexibility.
Thus, the most likely explanation is that Russia has used this statement to
announce a pause in negotiations with the West on security issues. This is not a
short-term "game." Rather, it is a culmination of a trend that has
been observable throughout 2011 and started perhaps even somewhat earlier.
Moscow has stonewalled for more than a year and has now declared for everyone to
see that it will not engage in substantive negotiations until after the
presidential election in the United States. Since the next administration will
need some time to develop a policy, the pause will continue until well into
2013—sooner if Barak Obama is reelected and somewhat later if a Republican
candidate wins the White House.
There are reasons why Moscow has not engaged in a serious dialogue in 2011
and apparently does not intend to engage in it next year. The most obvious
reason is that one does not negotiate with the United States in an election year
— everyone is too busy with the campaign and no one wants to appear too
"soft" in international politics. More importantly, the ratification
of New START in the end of 2010 apparently convinced Moscow that negotiating
with the Obama administration on arms control is largely pointless. While Barak
Obama is still regarded in Moscow as someone with whom one can negotiate and
strike a deal, the New START ratification process has also demonstrated to the
Russians that Obama would not be able to push a future deal through Congress.
For the Russian leadership, it simply does not make sense to make concessions,
which are a necessary ingredient of any new agreement, if Republicans would
torpedo that agreement. Russian officials and analysts have concluded that
Republicans display an attitude of "my way or the highway" or, as
the same concept is expressed in Russian, "there can be only two points of
view: one is mine, the other is wrong."
If compromises on nuclear arms reductions and missile defense are
impossible, a hardening of positions only makes sense. If Obama returns to the
White House, his position might be stronger than today and Moscow would be
prepared to make concessions to reach an acceptable compromise on missile
defense and a range of other issues. If a Republican wins next year, then
perhaps he will be more pragmatic in his foreign policy than his party is today.
Either way, it does not hurt to up the ante. If in 2013 Washington is in
the mood to negotiate, it would be to Moscow's advantage to start
bargaining from a stronger position, which is standard negotiating practice.
Medvedev's statement, in spite of the harshness of its tone, left the door
to negotiations open. If in 2013 the administration in power still does not
want to — or cannot — negotiate, Moscow's position is no worse
It appears that this is not a new policy. Instead, it has informed Russian
approach to arms control for more than a year. Russian officials have expressed
in repeated statements the view that before starting negotiations on a new arms
control treaty it is necessary to see how New START is being implemented. The
same attitude can be detected in Russian insistence that any discussion of
reducing or regulating tactical nuclear weapons — something that the
United States appears to desire quite strongly — be preceded by unilateral
withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe; Russian officials expect
this issue to be resolved in a package with a range of other issues of concern
to Moscow, such as missile defense or conventional strategic weapons. Moscow has
been cool even to the most modest suggestions of confidence building measures.
Every statement, every move has signaled that the Kremlin doubts the
credibility of the Obama administration's ability to strike a deal. Now
that election year is approaching, any hope for serious bargaining has
evaporated, and Medvedev has plainly said so.
Thus, there is no need for an immediate response to his recent statement.
In terms of substance, it appears empty. The message is not in its words or in
the threats. Rather, it's a move designed to lay the ground for 2013. This
is when a real game might begin.
 "Zayavlenieprezidenta v
svyazi s situatsiei, kotorayaslozhilasvokrugsistemy PRO stran NATO v
Evrope" [Statement of the President with Respect to the Situation that has
Emerged Around the Missile Defense System of NATO Countries in Europe], November
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Elevates Warning About U.S. Missile-Defense Plan in Europe," New York
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nachinaetgonkuvooruzhenii, zayavilzamministraoborony" [Russia Does Not
Launch an Arms Race, Says Deputy Minister of Defense], RIA-Novosti, November 25,
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PRO" [Radar Against the Threat of Missile Defense], Interfax, November 29,
"ZavodyposozdaniyunoveishikhZRK S-500 planiruetsyapostroitzadvagoda"
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be Built in Two Years], RIA-Novosti, November 17, 2000 http://www.ria.ru/defense_safety/20111117/490998226.html.
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 For details see
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v Abkhazii i YuzhnoiOsetii" [Russia Might Deploy Missile Complexes in
Abkhazia and South Ossetia], RIA-Novosti, September 22, 2011,http://www.ria.ru/defense_safety/20110922/441942516.html.
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'Iskander'" [The Russian Ministry of Defense Will Purchase up
to 120 Missile Complexes "Iskander"], RIA-Novosti, August 1, 2011,http://www.ria.ru/defense_safety/20110801/410364333.html.
vyidetizDogovora o likvidatsiiRSMD, zayavilRogozin" [Russia Will Not
Withdraw from the INF Treaty, Declared Rogozin], RIA-Novosti, November 23,