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Another Facet of Distrust Between Moscow and Washington

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A long history of disagreement and distrust in Missile Defense politics has existed between Russia and the US. On May 3, 2012, Russia’s top military officer, Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov, threatened to carry out a pre-emptive strike on US-led NATO missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe if Washington carries out its controversial plan to build a missile shield in the region. Old tensions between Russia and the US seem to have been revived. Is this the beginning of a new Cold War, or just another segment in a long chain of “muscle flexing” acts between Russia and the US?

In past years, Russia has opposed the missile shield program. It considers the program to be a serious threat to its national security and disapproves of NATO forces continuing to build military bases in Europe. The US government called Russia’s reaction “unjustified” and defended the program by citing increased threats to Europe from the Caucasus and the Middle East. An important political figure, Alexander Vershbow – NATO’s Deputy Secretary General and former Ambassador to the Russian Federation – stressed at the Moscow Conference that the missile shield program is not meant to be hostile to Russia. He also added the US and NATO respect and take seriously the Russian government’s concerns.

As expected, the Russian government rejected Mr. Versbow’s statement, saying that no clear evidence of threat from the Caucasus or the Middle East has been demonstrated. Recently-reelected President Putin continued to emphasize that the missile shield poses risks to Russia’s security, especially at its western borders. However, other nearby countries, such as Romania, have sided with the US, calling Russia’s reaction a “demonstration of force” and “propaganda.” Yet, it is also true that NATO and the US have been trying to establish control over the Eurasian continent by building their military bases in the less wealthy countries. Some examples of their attempts at extending control are the failed European Inspector Site Project in Poland, the Transit Center in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, and a primarily US Air Force operated military installation near Bishek that has been long criticized by Moscow.

It is hard to believe that either side in the conflict cares about the opposing side’s concerns. There simply exists a courteous exchange of “semi-threats” between Moscow and Washington as the two sides compete to be the key player in the region. All these talks in recent weeks from Russian generals and NATO’s officials clearly prove that the dispute will remain high on the agenda for President Putin and the presidential candidates in the US.

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