The Soviet government announced Thursday that it is turning over a controversial radar station in Siberia to the Soviet Academy of Sciences for use as a civilian-run, international space research center in an attempt to end a long dispute with the United States over the complex.
Gennady I. Gerasimov, the principal government spokesman, said that Moscow is willing to discuss with Washington specific measures, including the alteration or dismantling of various structures within the complex and the addition or removal of equipment there, in order to turn the Krasnoyarsk station into an international research center.
Without acknowledging that the station near Krasnoyarsk violates the 1972 treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States limiting defenses against ballistic missiles, Moscow is attempting to end the dispute, which threatens to block substantial progress in the talks on reducing strategic arms.
“They may have been caught out on Krasnoyarsk, but Russians are intent on seizing the initiative again,” a West European ambassador commented. “They are reducing the American position down to nonsense, perhaps not in legalistic treaty terms but certainly so in terms of international politics and public image. . . .
“Krasnoyarsk has become very much a matter of ‘face'--the Americans are determined to make the Russians lose face and admit a major treaty violation, and they are just as determined not to make such an admission,” the ambassador continued. “But this is not a game of ‘gotcha.’ There are important issues at stake, and how they are resolved, or not resolved, will affect other arms control agreements.”
The United States has rejected repeated Soviet proposals for compromise, demanding the station’s complete destruction. Washington contends that under the terms of the treaty, such large, phased-array radar stations can be located only on the periphery of the Soviet Union or the United States and that Krasnoyarsk has been constructed in complete disregard for the treaty’s provisions.
When based in a country’s interior, such as the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, such facilities can be used for battle management, not just as an early warning against missile attack and an initial anti-missile defense, according to U.S. officials, who argue for its destruction both as a security threat and a treaty violation.
“Why destroy something that can be used to the benefit of the whole world?” another Soviet official asked.
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, speaking in Krasnoyarsk itself, offered last month to turn the station over to an international space agency as the basis for long-term scientific research, but the proposal was rejected by Washington.
The Soviet Union is also ready, Gerasimov said Thursday, to destroy the components of two missile installations, known by their Western designations as Flat Twin and Pawn Shop, which were originally used at a missile test range but later moved to Moscow and the Byelorussian city of Gomel. Washington had complained that their transfer might violate the treaty by possibly augumenting missile defenses around those two cities.
In return, Gerasimov said the Soviet Union wants the United States to take similar measures with two of its large, phased-array radar stations, one in Greenland and the other under construction in Britain, that Moscow contends violate the treaty and that Washington justifies as being beyond U.S. borders and existing at the time the treaty was signed.
The U.S. government reacted cautiously to the Soviet announcement, welcoming the proposal to destroy the Flat Twin and Pawn Shop components but calling the transfer of the Krasnoyarsk radar to a civilian agency an unsatisfactory response to U.S. concerns.
Times staff writer Melissa Healy, in Washington, contributed to this article.