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Russia reacts coolly to Obama’s nuclear proposals

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, visits a machinery factory in St. Petersburg. Putin was not enthusiastic in remarks responding to President Obama's call for further reductions in nuclear weapons by the U.S. and Russia.
(Michael Klimentyev / AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW -- Russian officials responded coolly Wednesday to President Obama’s call for further reductions to the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

“We cannot allow the balance of the strategic deterrence system to be broken, or the effectiveness of our nuclear forces to be diminished,” President Vladimir Putin said at a defense industry meeting in St. Petersburg.

Obama said he wants to go beyond reductions outlined in the New START treaty and will be seeking an additional one-third cut in the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads in the U.S. stockpile, if the Russians agree to do the same.

In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Obama said he would work with the Russians “to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”

Russian officials, however, suggested that bilateral negotiations between the United States and Russia on the subject were themselves a relic of the past.

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“Now, this problem is wider and naturally the circle of parties to be possibly contacted on the issue has increased too,” Putin’s aide, Sergei Ushakov, told the RIA-Novosti news agency.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, could barely hide his irritation when asked about Obama’s proposal.

Russia cannot “indefinitely and bilaterally talk with the United States about cuts and restrictions on nuclear weapons in a situation where a whole number of other countries are expanding their nuclear and missile potentials,” Ryabkov told RIA-Novosti. “Before discussing the necessity of a further reduction of nuclear weapons we need to arrive at an acceptable solution of the ABM [anti-ballistic missile] problem”.

Russia opposes U.S.-backed North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to build a missile defense system in Europe, which it views as a threat to its military deterrence capabilities.

Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of Russia’s monthly National Defense journal, said further reductions to the country’s nuclear stockpile were not in Russia’s interests.

“Nuclear forces are the basis of our defense, with the help of which we currently maintain a strategic balance with the U.S.A. and NATO,” he said. “Should this balance be broken, the tables will be turned in favor of the West.”

At best, he said, the Kremlin will ignore Obama’s initiative and “at worst, will say a firm ‘No.’ ”

“In the near future, the United States will most likely install the ABM systems in Europe and Asia and by the 2030s, they will deploy such a system in space,” Korotchenko told the Los Angeles Times. “Should Russia submit to the proposed initiative and proceed to seriously cut its number of nuclear missiles, the United States and NATO will be able to intercept all of them in the event of a global conflict.”

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