I want to follow up on a few issues on President Putin’s Gabala radar proposal. First, U.S. and Russia are currently talking about rather different conceptions of the plan, and second, both high level Russian officials and the press are gearing up for the plan to be rejected.

My Plan, Your Plan

Russia intends the proposal to be instead of missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin’s proposal, officials say, make the U.S. plans in Europe unnecessary. The U.S. however is talking about the Gabala radar as in addition to the currently planned interceptor and radar sites.

(I’ve also heard some questions about whether Azerbaijan itself is approving of this use of a radar on its territory. As far as I’ve read, they are game. Also, Putin did tell the G8 that he agreed on the proposal with Azerbaijan’s president. Somehow I doubt Azerbaijan would contradict that.)

Chief of the Russian Army’s General Staff General Baluevsky said yesterday (more here in Russian) that if the U.S. does not give a direct answer to Putin’s proposal by the start of the meeting in Kennebunkport (July 1-2), Russia will know that Washington has made its choice to reject the proposal. Russian press called it an ultimatum, but it kind of seems like they just wanted to use the “U” word. “Yeah, we’ll like totally know what’s up if you don’t say anything!” Umm, ok.

Current reports on Russia’s possible response are along the lines of pre-G8 summit missile pointing. Baluevsky noted the “Iskander missile and other systems.” (Iskander has a declared range which is within INF limits, but its actual maximum range may exceed that.)

What about INF?

However, what I am keeping an eye out for is whether threat to withdraw from the INF treaty starts to come up again. Russian officials talked up a storm about INF withdrawal a few months ago, calling it an asymmetric response to the U.S. Now the response appears to focus on existing missiles and where they are targeted.

What happened to the INF threats? At least two possibilities: 1) Russia noticed that the U.S. did not seem to care about their INF withdrawal while targeting missile talk gets everyone all riled up, or 2) there is a sense that Russia itself may have something to lose from INF withdrawal (eg. they have enough trouble with developing the currently planned missiles, so maybe opening competition with the U.S. on more is not the best plan), while existing missiles can threaten Europe too.

Russia did successful test the Bulava missile on Thursday. The last failed test was in December.