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November 23, 2011

Amb. Pifer to DA: “Door remains open” for future missile defense talks
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Josh Rogin reports today:

The U.S.-Russian talks to cooperate on missile defense have apparently failed, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced a series of retaliatory measures today aimed at giving Russia the ability to destroy the American-led system in Eastern Europe.

In a statement to the "citizens of Russia" on Wednesday, Medvedev announced that the year-long negotiations between the President Barack Obama's administration and its Russian counterparts to find a way to work together on what's known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense were over. Medvedev said Russia was unable to attain written assurances from the United States that the system would not and could not be used to counter Russia's ballistic missile force.

As Democracy Arsenal readers will remember, there was a contentious debate over missile defense in the Senate while the New START treaty was being considered. Russia has long felt that its strategic offensive capabilities were the target of any and all U.S. backed missile defense systems, despite repeated briefings on the intent of the European system. While Medvedev’s comments aren’t exactly inspiring, his warnings may not be as dire as they sound.

Ambassador Steve Pifer of Brookings tells DA:

Bear in mind the domestic political context for Medvedev’s statement.  Russia holds parliamentary elections in ten days time.  Just as one can rarely go wrong criticizing Russia in American politics, taking a tough line against the United States and NATO plays well with much of the Russian electorate.

Note also that Medvedev said twice – as did Lavrov yesterday – that the door remains open for further discussions with Washington and NATO.

 I know it is hard to believe - a lawmaker saying something for domestic political consumption - but keep this in mind when Congress returns and starts panicking about the Russians threatening to withdraw from New START. There's more to the story here. 



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