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Russian defence chief's contradictory statements aim to avoid conflict - paper
Source: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Moscow, in Russian 21 Dec 01

According to Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov has made certain statements which are not entirely in line with the Kremlin's official position. The newspaper says one reason for such a situation is that the defence minister must take into account the position of the General Staff, which still sees NATO as a potential enemy. The following is the text of the report, published on 21 December. The subheadings have been inserted editorially:

Russian Federation Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov is still making mutually exclusive statements on highly important foreign policy problems. While in Brussels, he announced Russia's readiness to support counterterrorist operations outside Afghanistan if it "receives weighty, well-reasoned proof of the existence of international terrorist structures." However, the following day in London Ivanov said that he considered it premature to conduct such operations in other parts of the world. Previously similar contradictions were discerned in Sergey Ivanov's position on the problem of the use of CIS territory by the US and other NATO states' armed forces in the course of the operation against the Taleban regime as well as with regard to a Russian contingent's participation in the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan.

Some statements by defence minister fail to conform

A number of statements by the head of the Defence Ministry, to be specific, with regard to the problem of a professional army, have been directly at variance with the Kremlin's official line. The Foreign Ministry is also showing serious concern. People there consider it abnormal for Sergey Ivanov and [Foreign Minister] Igor Ivanov to put forward opposing viewpoints on the same international problem.

Let us point out that the evolution of Sergey Ivanov's views is taking place with amazing rapidity. Thus, at the 37th International Conference on Security Issues in Munich in February 2001 he sounded the alarm, saying that the deployment of the US national antimissile defence system "would lead to the destruction of the whole structure of strategic stability, creating the preconditions for a new arms race, including in space". However, in December during a meeting with the leaders of the Strategic Missile Troops high command the defence minister abandoned his former radicalism. In his opinion, the United States' unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty will merely create a "certain vacuum" from the viewpoint of strategic stability and Ivanov himself takes a "fairly calm" view of this decision on the part of the United States. What is more, national missile defence "is a myth". Moscow's line that the "United States' withdrawal from the ABM treaty does not threaten Russia's security" was officially enshrined 18 December in the final communique of the North Atlantic Council session at defence minister level.

Sergey Ivanov claimed in Munich that Russia is prepared for "mutual radical cuts in strategic offensive arms to 1,500 warheads or even lower with the United States" only provided that the ABM treaty is preserved. Now this has been safely forgotten. Following Ivanov's talks in Brussels with Rumsfeld the preparation for the conclusion of a new treaty on strategic offensive arms will take an accelerated pace. This document will be ready for signing as early as summer 2002. At the same time, as the Russian defence minister said in Brussels, "the ceilings for strategic offensive arms cuts are known, neither side will discuss who needs how many warheads on the ground, at sea, and in the air - our hands are free on this issue".

General Staff still sees NATO as possible enemy

Why is this division occurring? On the one hand, Sergey Ivanov has to take account of the position of the General Staff, which still regards the United States and NATO as the potential enemy. A typical example of the level of strategic thinking of the Russian military top brass is an article by Col-Gen Yuriy Baluyevskiy, first deputy chief of the General Staff, with the pretentious headline "instrument of US hegemonism," which was published not so long ago in Voyenno-Istoricheskiy Zhurnal [the military history magazine]. In the author's opinion, "the United States is pursuing a policy of strong-arm pressure on the governments of sovereign states everywhere, often violating the norms of international law". Baluyevskiy then reaches the conclusion of the "offensive thrust of US military policy." There is no need for comment here. On the other hand, as the Kremlin's political appointee, Sergey Ivanov is obliged to implement President Putin's policy and he has chosen the course of close rapprochement with the West and the establishment of partnership relations with the United States. Teetering between the Kremlin and the General Staff, the defence minister is forced to say one thing today and quite another tomorrow.

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