There has been a running disagreement between Russia and NATO over the deployment of the missile shield facilities in countries bordering Russia that goes back to the Bush administration. Now during the greatly heightened tensions of the Ukraine crisis, Obama and Putin are raising the stakes in that debate.
Russia may be on the point of walking out of a major cold war era arms-control treaty, Russian analysts have said, after President Obama accused Moscow of violating the accord by testing a cruise missile.
There has been evidence at least since 2011 of Russian missile tests in violation of the 1987 intermediate range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, which banned US or Russian ground-launched cruise missiles with a 500 to 5,500-mile (805 to 8,851km) range. But the Obama administration has been hesitant until now of accusing Moscow of a violation in the hope that it could persuade Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to stop the tests or at least not deploy the weapon in question, known as the Iskander, or R-500.
Washington has also been reticent because of the technical differences in definition of what constitutes the range of a missile under the INF treaty. That ambiguity now seems to have dropped away. According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst and columnist for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Russia has indeed broken the treaty by testing the R-500 which has a range of more than 1,000km.
"Of course, this is in gross violation of the 1987 treaty, but Russian officials including Putin have said this treaty is unfair and not suitable for Russia," Felgenhauer said. "The United States doesn't have [medium-range missiles] but other countries do have them, such as China, Pakistan and Israel, so they say this is unfair and wrong."
According to Kremlin-linked analyst Sergei Markov, Russia has a far greater need for medium-range cruise missiles than the |US, because military rivals including China are located near its borders and because Moscow lacks the Americans' long-range bombing capabilities.This does not sound like Putin is backing down when faced by the threat of US/EU economic sanctions. I am not enough of a military analyst to gauge the practical military implications if Russia abrogates this treaty. However, I think that the symbolic implications for geopolitical relations would be very significant. This is not just some cavalier gesture brought on by the face off over Ukraine. This has links back to the last days of the USSR and the balance of power. Also it didn't just happen this morning.
"Russia would be happy to leave this agreement, and I think Russia is using the Ukraine crisis to leave the agreement," Markov said.
Russia voiced concern on Thursday over a U.S. proposal to station elements of a missile defense shield in South Korea, saying the move could provoke an arms race in the region.The US is also trying to exert influence and control in East Asia. Russia is perceiving this as being hemmed in by US missiles from both the west and the east. One important question is how China views the proposed deployment in South Korea. It doesn't seem overly dramatic to say that this situation is getting messier and more complicated.
The commander of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea last month said he had proposed deploying a THAAD advanced missile-defense system to the country to counter the threat of North Korea's weapons capabilities.
"Such U.S. statements cannot but cause concern," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "This development will inevitably have a negative impact on the strategic situation in the region and could provoke an arms race in Northeast Asia."