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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 June 2007, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Viewpoint: Russia's missile fears
Does Kremlin anger over US plans to site anti-missile facilities close to its borders reflect genuine Russian concerns?

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of foreign affairs journal Russia in Global Affairs, spoke to the BBC News website from Moscow.

Fyodor Lukyanov (photo supplied by same)

America keeps saying its anti-missile system will not target Russia and to suggest otherwise would be absurd because Russia can overcome it. Well, Russia could overcome it today but what about in 15 years' time, when it is not just two facilities but a global system?

Russia would have nothing to fear if it was just the anti-missile base in Poland and the radar site in the Czech Republic but if the idea of a global anti-missile system becomes a reality, the nuclear capability of Russia, China and other countries will be undermined.

So when the Americans say they are not targeting Russia, they are right, but when Russian generals say that the US is targeting Russia, they are also right. It is two sides of the same coin.

When [Russian President Vladimir] Putin criticises the US aggressively over its anti-missile system plans, I can imagine the faces of China's leaders, sitting quietly in Beijing and happily nodding approval because Putin is fighting for them against a system none of them want. Putin reflects the views of all those who are not US allies.

Beyond electioneering

Were the US planning to build its facilities in Turkey or Italy, I think the Russian reaction would have been slightly more restrained but still negative.

Putin's sharp words today come down to his deep sense of disappointment in the US

The only Russian electioneering [ahead of the parliamentary ballot in December and presidential vote in March 2008] going on here is in the tough style and manner the Kremlin is using.

Not that Putin really needs it - our society could not be more politically consolidated if it tried and everyone backs the president and whoever he puts forward to replace him. Nonetheless, the authorities are always happy to have an extra bit of insurance.

But I do not think the stance on the anti-missile system depends on elections. The rhetoric may change but Russia will continue to view it as a threat.

Let down by Bush

Countries can cooperate on strategic security only if they trust each other and where anti-missile systems and national security are concerned, the trust has to be very high indeed.

Soviet radar station in Cuba (image from 2001)
The USSR built a radar station in Cuba in 1964

Just now, it would be absurd to talk about such trust between Russia and the US.

Theoretically, it was possible five or six years ago, when Russia and the US were united against terrorism, but the trust gradually disappeared and Russia believes that it has been cheated by the US.

In Putin's eyes, Russia has done a great deal for the West and America. Putin removed the military base from Vietnam, he shut down the radar station in Cuba, he did not stand in the way of the US opening bases in Central Asia.

The US believes that Russia had no choice and that it was in Russian interests anyway but Russia believes that all it got for its efforts was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the dispute with Georgia, Nato expansion and now these anti-missile sites.

Putin's sharp words today come down to his deep sense of disappointment in the US. He feels misused.

Stumping the EU

I can understand how people see this dispute in terms of New Russian arrogance and resurgent Russian imperialism but that is a very facile interpretation.

If we are talking about projecting power here, just look at Poland, for example, which has become the lead EU state in all things regarding Russia and determines how relations with us are conducted.

All the politicians I have spoken to privately in the EU - and I do meet a lot of them - have told me they do not support the anti-missile system. They all say it is a perfectly useless thing that nobody needs.

And many of the people I have talked to in private have told me they believe the anti-missile system is a US tactic to prevent the EU from becoming an independent player in foreign policy.

In my view, the anti-missile system plan spells the end of any attempt to have a common security policy in Europe because East European countries, for very understandable reasons, do not trust Western Europe to look after their security. They believe that America will defend them.

So you can blame everything on Russia, and sadly Russia does much to encourage that position, but the situation really is much more complex.

Capitalist revolutionaries

All former empires, especially the big ones like France and Britain, have gone through the same difficult process.

For Russia it is even harder because it never regarded Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan as colonies but as natural parts of our country.

The USSR's imperialism was based on ideology and confrontation with another side. A Cold War is not possible now because it would mean dividing the world in two.

We might be wrestling with the US or EU but there would be enormous countries on the sidelines, enjoying the spectacle. I mean China, Iran and India, to some extent.

It would be a lose-lose, not win-win, situation because the winners would be China and the others.

Of course, Russia wants to be a great power again but not a superpower.

It wants to be a member of the club which sets the rules and wants to review the rules which were drawn up when it was weak.

Russia's world view today is mainly through the prism of economic interests. It perceives the outside world as an enormous market where every country competes for a share.

It is a young and terribly aggressive, ruthless, unceremonious kind of capitalism but it is guided by profit.

Interview taken by Patrick Jackson, BBC News.

Your comments:

This should be discussed at the UN to ratify the implications of such moves, this doesn't just affect Russia
Gerry Mangan
BBC News website reader, Basingstoke, England

This defense system tips the balance of power completely, creating a super power with the single biggest nuclear arsenal. What would a wannabe president with the same superiority complex as Bush do with this power on nations opposed or making things difficult. This should be discussed at the UN to ratify the implications of such moves, this doesn't just affect Russia.
Gerry Mangan, Basingstoke, England

Amazing timing: Did Bush and Putin agree in advance of the G8 meeting to have this missile issue overshadow the very real threat to this planet, global warming, so that they could avoid having to discuss it? And by the way has Bush ever stopped to think that rising sea levels caused by global warming triggered by US in-action could be just as devastating to coastal areas of nuclear armed India and Pakistan as a direct attack on them and that at some point in many years time they may point their weapons at the US to save their own land?
Colin McKenzie, Manchester, UK

Great analysis! When the USSR put nuclear missiles in Cuba it didn't change anything strategically either, both the US and the SU were capable of mutual destruction. A few extra missiles fired from Cuba would not have changed that. Yet, the Americans made a huge fuss about it! That's exactly the situation here, anything that diminishes or degrades Russia's nuclear capability is clearly an act of aggression.
Vladislav, Moscow

Yes we did drop the bomb...and the entire planet was not destroyed. As a matter of fact, the enemy did not care enough about their own people so we had to drop a second one before they surrendered. It's tough being the only remaining super power. It would be a lot tougher on the rest of you, if we weren't.
Chuck D, US Mil - Deployed

I think the bases could just be a wedge issue to put pressure on Russia to deal with Iran. It's the Russians who are building the Reactor for Tehran. I wouldn't be suprised if the State Department says "Russia, if you can help us make sure Iran doesn't get the bomb we won't humiliate you by putting these bases in your former sphere of influence." The same goes for the British and the Russian spy case. It might all be a way to put pressure on Moscow.
TJ, South Dakota USA

Mr Lukyanov is absolutely right. Russia has every right to be aggressive in this case. It is a cause of worry for India also and any other country with nuclear weapons if a global missile defence system comes into place. It would give the US complete immunity in case of a war. America is systematically trying to conquer the world. They seem to be afraid of the fact that China, Russia and India are growing stronger and want to stop this. Europe on the other hand should realise they are not going to benefit from this missile shield. When it comes to a war, America would not care one bit what happens to europe. Europe should not alienate Russia keeping old cold war memories in mind. They have to realise the present situation with America having it selfish and dangerous objectives.
Anand, Bangalore

Europe needs what the US has to offer!! Its not only rogue states like Iran and North Korea which we need to contend with, but Russia as well. The most feared would be Russia, because when the chips are down, its the rogue states and Russia who will join hands against the US and Europe. And believe me, its heading that way soon, unfortunately though!
Juliana Smith, Croydon

We Polish do not want missiles on our soil, do not want to be a target but we know, we cannot rely on Europe which is depending on Russia's energy supplies more and more. Russia's never been reliable partner! You witness it on daily basis. Russia ( Soviet U) had destroyed our country for 50 years, plus between 1939 - 41 of WWII killed more Poles then Germans did. I know US shields ain't the best solution but at least something. Don't get me wrong, I think that the USA is the bigest danger for peace on our globe but that's why we need to stick with them. This is business.
ROB, Krakow, Poland

In my opinion, we should fear not only Russia, but also the US. If Russia's and China's nuclear capabilities are undermined, or even useless, then the US would be the only nuclear superpower capable of sending one of those missiles ( of which they've got thousands, by the way) to Europe. This situation is a double edged sword. We, Europe, should arm ourselves against both.
Markus Pihlström, Helsingfors, Finland

I thought your article was another in a long list of 'pundits' making their living by chewing up today's news and regurgitating it to market to the masses. Until the ending statement about (Russia) being "a young..." . It reminds me of US history in the 1800s, when today's powerful families and organizations were first starting up, ie. 'the robber barons' of the Old WEST (trains and newspapers). I think I understand Russia a bit better now - thanks.
Bill, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA

Wake up people, the US that people looked towards for inspiration is no longer there - it hasn't been since Bush came to power in the questionable elections of 2000. Although Russia isn't a better option, we need a bi-polar world in order to be free and safe - each side will think very carefully before launching wars to impose their wills on the peoples of the world.

Map of radars and launch platforms


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