MOSCOW Russia’s army rumbled with discontent yesterday over President Bush’s go-it-alone approach to nuclear disarmament, seen here as undercutting Moscow’s leverage in future negotiations over missile defense.
Frowns surfaced in Russia’s Defense Ministry building after President Vladimir Putin was unable Tuesday to get Mr. Bush to sign up to a bilateral long-range nuclear arms reduction agreement during their Washington talks.
As promised in advance, Mr. Bush announced a cut of 1,700 to 2,000 warheads from Washington’s current arsenal of nearly 7,000 over the next 10 years. But he did so without reaching prior agreement with Mr. Putin.
Mr. Bush stressed that he was not in favor of “endless hours of arms control discussions. I looked the man in the eye and shook his hand. But if we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll be glad to do it.”
The announcement meant that Mr. Putin had to play catchup later in the day by saying that Russia also would make cuts from 6,000 to 2,000 warheads or less.
But he gave no time frame for Moscow’s cutbacks while stressing that discussion over “offensive and defensive” weapons would continue when the two leaders retreated to Mr. Bush’s Texas ranch yesterday.
Mr. Bush’s firm unilateral approach puts in flux the status of previous disarmament agreements between Moscow and Washington which have been recognized under international law and Russia’s future bargaining position in strategic affairs.
The cut lays to waste Russia’s repeated efforts to cast the United States as a military aggressor that is trying to “militarize space” by developing a futuristic missile defense program that one day may have attack capabilities.
It also leaves Moscow in the unenviable position of grumbling over a U.S. decision to eliminate a large chunk of some of the deadliest weapons on earth.
Representing the military hawks, one top Russia Defense Ministry general flatly called Mr. Bush’s announcement “wrong.”
Gen. Valentin Kuznetsov, who heads the Defense Ministry’s international cooperation division, argued that only bilateral agreements could guarantee full control over nonproliferation and disarmament issues.
“Russia and the United States have gained great expertise in the area of verification and control over nuclear cuts, and it would be wrong to abandon” this process, Russian information agency Novosti quoted Gen. Kuznetsov as saying.
“The whole world should benefit from this,” noted Varfolomei Korobushin, deputy head of Russia’s Academy of Military Science.
“But the cuts must be made in a manner that does not leave the United States with an advantage” on the strategic defense front, Mr. Korobushin told ORT television.
The reductions announced by Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin are below the levels of the START II Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by Moscow and Washington in 1993.
They mark the first time in the nuclear era that a military power has volunteered such radical cuts on its own and leaves in doubt the validity of a host of other agreements to which Moscow has clung to for leverage in negotiating international affairs.
Most importantly, the announcement adds fuel to U.S. threats that it could unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, and start developing a missile shield even if no compromise agreement with Moscow on the issue is reached.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin signed a joint declaration Tuesday, stating only that “on strategic defenses and the ABM treaty, we have agreed, in light of the changing global security environment, to continue consultations within the broad framework of the new strategic relationship.”