MOSCOW — Three days before his meeting with President Obama at a nuclear security summit in South Korea, the outgoing Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, reiterated his objections Friday to NATO’s missile defense plan, saying it would undermine nuclear parity and demanding written proof that Russia is not the ultimate target.
The hard-line armaments minister, Dmitry Rogozin, forcefully seconded Medvedev’s arguments, made at an international security conference. Rogozin said the NATO system would be aimed at Russia and Russian missiles and as such is a threat to Russian sovereignty.
It would, he said, make possible a “blitzkrieg strike” intended to “disarm enemies.”
Kremlin aides have been predicting a thaw in relations with the United States following the presidential election here earlier this month, but Friday’s meeting made clear that if one comes, it won’t be over missile defense. Medvedev plans to raise the issue in his Monday meeting with Obama, according to Russian news agencies.
Medvedev also took some shots at the West over Syria, although Russia this week agreed to back a U.N. resolution on the fighting there. On threats against Syria and Iran, he said, “We see lame logic and the psychology of war.”
He criticized “the very active media campaign” against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and said the crisis there should be handled by experts, not journalists.
“We shouldn’t allow propaganda attacks to undermine ... international law,” he said.
Western participants in Friday’s conference chided the Russians for their adamant stand on missile defense.
“I am no enthusiast for the American program,” said Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London. “But you allow it to over-determine every other aspect of your relations with the United States. You talk as though the credibility of your nuclear deterrent were somehow at stake.”
It isn’t, he said, and, as he gestured toward the chair just vacated by Rogozin, he suggested that Russian policy is as driven by the military-industrial complex as U.S. policy is. “Do you really want your missile-makers, and your warhead-makers, to be in the driver’s seat?” he asked.
The illogic extends to both sides, Heisbourg said, noting that the United States’ missile defense system is supposedly aimed at Iran, yet U.S. officials are adamant that Iran won’t be allowed to obtain the nuclear weapons that would make its missiles dangerous.
“We are holding a very critical part of U.S.-Russian relations hostage to the Iranian problem,” said Richard Burt, former chief U.S. negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks. “I have to ask myself: Does that make sense?”
“It has been a major, major tragedy that Russian concern about American missile defense has had such a corrosive effect on Russian-American relations,” said William Perry, who was the U.S. secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997.
Russia’s next president, Vladimir Putin, who will be sworn in May 7, will travel to the United States 11 days later to attend an economic summit at Camp David, but he will not participate in a NATO summit immediately afterward in Chicago. A Kremlin source told the Interfax news agency Friday that there will be no Russia-NATO summit this year.