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Boston Globe
June 1, 2003
As leaders meet, some Cold War habits endure
By David Filipov and Bryan Bender, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent

MOSCOW -- Two weeks ago, Russian strategic nuclear bombers, four lumbering Tu-95 Bears and several supersonic Tu-160 Blackjacks, flew on a practice run from a Volga River base to the Indian Ocean. Russian military officials made no secret of the targets: US carrier groups and the American air base on Diego Garcia.

These military exercises, widely publicized in the state-run media, were intended to show the Russian nation that its forces are ready to take on the United States, which military planners here still see as the greatest threat facing them.

The flights were made on the day that Russian legislators called for funding to modernize the country's aging atomic arsenal. A few days later, a popular daily newspaper discussed in its lead article the likelihood of nuclear war and concluded, ''America will attack Russia by 2010.''

As President Bush meets today with President Vladimir V. Putin in St. Petersburg to try to rekindle relations that chilled following the leaders' rift over the war in Iraq, the nuclear standoff that held the world in its grip for more than four decades still casts a shadow over the two countries.

Despite their alliance in the war on terrorism, both nations have thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other, ready to launch at a moment's notice, leaving little room for miscalculation and raising the risk of accidental launch. The impasse makes progress on a host of other mutually beneficial issues more difficult and is hamstringing global efforts to reduce nuclear arms, according to current and former US and Russian officials. Almost a dozen years after the end of the Cold War made cooperation possible in ways unimagined before the Soviet Union collapsed, Russian fears of the US military still shape the mentality of military, security, and diplomatic elites. Raised on decades of suspicion, they have Putin's ear at least as often as advisers who favor a broad alliance with the United States, analysts say.

The consequences of this mistrust are significant. Russian misgivings about US intentions fueled Moscow's decision to oppose the Iraq war and hinder cooperation in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Iran and North Korea.

The US military establishment also eyes Russian nuclear activities warily and structures its forces accordingly, despite assertions of friendship.

''If you looked down from Mars, you would never know the Cold War ended,'' said former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, an arms control advocate and the chairman of the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington. Nunn and others are calling on Bush and Putin to take advantage of their well-known affection for each other to undertake immediate steps to stand down from their Cold War nuclear postures.

In a sign that Moscow wants to use today's summit to move away from the confrontation that developed over Iraq, Putin sent a note to Bush last week saying that there is ''much more substance uniting us than issues over which disagreements remain.''

But some observers say that the reliance on Cold War paradigms is preventing any meaningful partnership.

''America continues to view Russia as its main enemy and does not intend to change this doctrine,'' the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda said in its lead story last week, laying out the scenario for a US nuclear attack on Russia. While many analysts here dismiss that scenario as unlikely, they are equally skeptical about US intentions for Russia.

''There is no strategic partnership of Russia and the USA, and there can be none,'' said Viktor Kuvaldin, an analyst at the Gorbachev Fund, a research center founded by the former Soviet leader. ''The US will never accept it.''

Specialists cite several reasons why there have been few changes in US and Russian nuclear policy since 1991. In recent years, Moscow has placed greater emphasis on nuclear arms as its conventional military forces have deteriorated. Meanwhile, Washington maintains aggressive submarine patrols off Russian coasts, remains prepared to take out much of the Russian nuclear deterrent before Moscow can retaliate, and has scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia to construct a national missile defense system that raises Russian suspicion about American intentions.

But the biggest impediment may be Cold War attitudes.

''It's a Cold war mind-set and a function of standard-operating procedures continuing,'' said Robert S. McNamara, secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

Military postures underlie those attitudes. ''As long as Russia can launch nuclear ballistic missiles on short notice against the US, the US must maintain a similar capability against Russia. And vice versa,'' Nunn said.

Arms-control advocates applaud the recent US and Russian approval of a treaty to reduce their deployed long-range nuclear forces to between 2,200 and 1,700 warheads over the next decade. But the single-page treaty, approved this week by the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, is based primarily on faith. There is no process for verification, and the missiles taken off the front line can be placed in storage for later use.

''Even assuming the full implementation of the Moscow Treaty in the year 2012, thousands of US and Russian nuclear weapons will remain on hair-trigger alert and will have the capability to destroy both societies within one hour,'' Nunn said.

A new Rand Corporation report, titled ''Beyond the Nuclear Shadow,'' acknowledges that the two countries have come far. They cooperate on reducing the dangers of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons materials left over from the Soviet Union. Russia is a full partner in the war on terrorism, even helping the US military obtain rights to operate military bases in Central Asia during the Afghan war.

But the Rand report adds that both countries ''still retain nuclear postures and deterrence doctrines formulated when tension between them was much higher than it is today.''

The report calls on Bush and Putin to take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert, something Bush, as a candidate in 2000, called ''another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation.'' The report also suggests placing sensors on US and Russian missile silos so that the countries can monitor each other; pulling back US ballistic missile and attack submarines from Russia; removing warheads from US sub-launched Trident missiles; and pursuing a joint missile shield, among other confidence-building measures.

It will not be accomplished in today's one-hour meeting, but Rand says the ultimate goal for the two nuclear powers should be a relationship more like that of France and Britain. ''Both are nuclear powers with divergent views on some issues, yet neither would consider using nuclear weapons or even military force against the other to settle a dispute.''

Rolling back the Cold War mind-set also would set an example for other countries, such as nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. Continuing on the current course, according to McNamara, ''is, over time, going to proliferate weapons in other nations.''

Filipov reported from Moscow; Bender from Washington.

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