Russia accepts Bush announcement to withdraw from ABM treaty, but doesn't like it

Friday, December 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ For months, top Russian officials fumed, issued threats and finally _ as with so many post-Cold War strategic realities _ accepted America's unilateral decision to scrap the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile treaty.

In a nationwide television address Thursday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that abandoning the 29-year-old treaty was a ``mistake'' but quickly added that the move would not endanger Russia's security.

Putin's tone was calm and assured in the address that lasted just over three minutes, and he stated clearly that Bush's announcement in Washington earlier Thursday had not come as a surprise.

The Kremlin has had to absorb a series of blows to its former superpower status since the collapse of the Soviet empire. But President Bush's decision to scrap the ABM treaty marks a break in decades of nuclear arms control, which had a fundamental role in the U.S.-Russia relationship and was something the Kremlin had sought to preserve.

In June, Putin, echoing some of the most hawkish members of the Russian General Staff, told a group of American reporters that ending the ABM treaty would spell the end of the START I and START II nuclear treaties, and he threatened to put multiple nuclear warheads on Russia's rockets in reply.

Six months later, he acknowledged that both Russia and the United States were able to penetrate the other's missile defense systems.

``So, with full certainty, I can say that the decision made by the president of the United States does not threaten Russia's national security,'' Putin told his countrymen.

Putin made it clear that Russia did not intend to scrap START I and START II, which govern the use of offensive nuclear weapons. Instead, he responded to Bush's earlier proposal to cut U.S. nuclear warheads by two-thirds to between 1,700 and 2,200.

The Russian leader said Russia was ready to bring the number of its warheads down to between 1,500 and 2,200.

Putin pushed for these cuts to be written into a formal treaty, something Bush has opposed. Putin sought support for Russia's position in telephone consultations Thursday night with the leaders of India and China.

Brief reports in Chinese state-run media said Chinese President Jiang Zemin urged Bush and Putin to preserve the treaty during a three-way telephone call.

Beijing worries that Bush's plans to develop a missile defense system will undercut the deterrent value of its small nuclear arsenal. Chinese officials have warned that their government might respond by building more nuclear missiles or trying to make its existing missiles more accurate.

``Jiang Zemin briefed Putin and Bush on the Chinese standpoint on this issue, and stressed that under current circumstances, preserving the international arms control and disarmament system is extremely important,'' said a four-sentence report from the Xinhua News Agency.

Bush's stance was criticized by prominent Russian lawmakers and defense officials alike. However, a consensus was emerging that indicated that even the most vocal critics realized that Russia's security was not at stake.

Still, some commentators warned that the U.S. decision could trigger a new arms race.

Vladimir Lukin, a prominent liberal lawmaker who was post-Soviet Russia's first ambassador to the United States, said the decision would send the wrong signal to ordinary Russians.

``We counted on closer cooperation with the United States. If the United States also wants such cooperation, it must prove that this move is singular, and not part of a larger trend,'' he said.