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ISN Security Watch
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25 March 2009
Moscow's Expensive Game
The pendulum of the Kremlin's rhetoric keeps swinging between reconciliatory pronouncements and pledges of large-scale military investment
By Sergei Blagov in Moscow for ISN Security Watch
Sergei Blagov is a Moscow-based correspondent for ISN Security Watch.

In the wake of the Russian Security Council's meeting on 24 March, the body's secretary Nikolai Patrushev announced that Russia would not become involved in any sort of expensive arms race. The statement came on the heels of an announcement by the Kremlin that the country would undergo massive military investment.

The Security Council has long been working on a new draft of the Russian national security doctrine. The country's National Security Strategy until 2020 was supposed to be officially adopted at the March meeting; however, at the meeting, chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, officials granted the Council one more month to finalize the draft.

The delay was apparently a reflection of Russias desire to wait for the results of the upcoming Russo-US summit meetings. Medvedev and US President Barack Obama are due to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit next month. They are also tentatively expected to hold a bilateral summit meeting in early July in Russia.

Earlier this month, Russia announced a major rearmament plan. On 17 March, Medvedev said that Russia would begin a large-scale rearming in 2011, including its nuclear arsenal, in response to the perceived NATO threat. Medvedev's re-armament pledges were backed up by strong rhetoric from the country's top military officials.

Also on 17 March, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov accused the US and NATO of beefing up their military presence near Russia's borders. Serdyukov also warned that Russia faced the risk of armed conflicts, detrimental to the country's security.

As the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) expires on 5 December 2009, Russia will deploy new RS-24 strategic missiles with multiple warheads, Russian Strategic Missile Forces Commander General Nikolai Solovtsov announced on 17 March, adding that the new missiles would be armed with no less than four warheads each.

On 23 March, Russia indicated plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons and cruise missiles on its submarines. Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, deputy head of the Navy General Staff, also said that Russia may develop nuclear submarines armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles, despite ongoing financial constraints.

However, in an apparent contrast with hawkish pledges to rearm Russia's military and boost its nuclear forces, on 20 March, Medvedev voiced optimism that relations with the US could be improved. Medvedev's statement followed a meeting in Moscow with a group of former US top officials, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. On 23 March, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev also sounded optimistic about bilateral ties after his meetings in Washington with Obama and US Vice President Joseph Biden.

Yet despite optimistic pronouncements, both sides have struggled to negotiate a successor pact to START-1. Russian diplomats say that nuclear reductions and US missile defenses are linked.

On 19 March, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko voiced hopes that Russia and the US would be able to end their dispute over missile defenses in Europe and reach an agreement on a new arms reduction treaty to replace START-1.

Moscow has repeatedly lashed out at Bush administration missile defense plans in Europe, arguing that such systems threaten Russia's strategic weapons. The Obama administration is yet to confirm whether it aims to continue with these plans, but it has hinted that the missile shield plans could become a matter of negotiations with Russia.

Russia's stated plans to bolster its military and its stated desire to clinch a deal with the US on arms reduction are trial balloons ahead of crucial meetings between Medvedev and Obama.

Peaceful signals seem closer to reality as Moscow would apparently prefer to refrain from delivery on its expensive pledges of massive military investments.