Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Russian general who threatened preemptive U.S. attacks to meet Dempsey on missile defense

• July 12, 2012 5:00 am


Russia’s top general who recently threatened preemptive attacks on U.S. missile defenses is set to meet at the Pentagon Thursday with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Russian opposition to U.S. and NATO missile defense deployments in Europe are expected to be the major topic of discussion when the chief of the Russian general staff meets Dempsey, according to U.S. officials close to the planned meeting.

Dempsey is expected to open the talks with Gen. Nikolai Makarov by thanking the Russians for agreeing last month to open a NATO supply base at the Volga River city of Ulyanovsk. The air base will serve as a hub for cargo and troop transits to and from Afghanistan.

Makarov was given an honor cordon at the Pentagon Thursday morning prior to his meeting with Dempsey.

Dempsey also is expected to raise the U.S. military’s hope to conduct theater-level cooperative missile defense exercises with the Russians.

Makarov for his part will again outline Russian plans to counter the administration’s so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense system.

Makarov is also expected to make clear that the Russians are not ready to reach any agreements with the United States on missile defenses.

The U.S. system calls for deployments of U.S. Aegis missile defense ships in waters around Europe as well as future ground-based deployments of advanced SM-3 missile defense interceptors currently deployed on ships.

Makarov is expected to assert that the Russian government will not deal with the United States on missile defenses until after the U.S. presidential elections in November, according to the officials.

That Russian position follows President Obama’s open-microphone comments in March to then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, when Obama was overheard promising the Russian leader that he would have "more flexibility" in missile defense negotiations in a second presidential term.

Those comments drew widespread criticism from Republicans who said the administration was planning to make further concessions to Moscow that could hamper U.S. national security.

The administration canceled plans to deploy long-range interceptors in Poland in favor of the less-capable defenses as a concession to Moscow.

Makarov is expected during his meeting with Dempsey to state that the Russians are continuing to develop responses to missile defenses as outlined in speeches by President Vladimir Putin and Medvedev.

Russian military forces have been expanding both nuclear and conventional forces in response to U.S. missile defenses.

Among the weapons being tested and developed are high-tech long-range missiles that can defeat strategic defenses. The Russians also have discussed pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bans medium-range nuclear missiles.

Russia also has said it would deploy short-range nuclear-capable missiles closer to Europe in response to future U.S. missile defenses.

Joint Staff spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Makarov will take part in a meeting of the Military Cooperation Working Group that is part of the Bilateral Presidential Commission.

In addition to missile defense and the Afghanistan supply route, "they are expected to discuss the Arab Spring, our rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific and they'll discuss status of the sub-working groups and the annual Military Cooperation Work Plan," Lapan said.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday, "We're very pleased that Gen Makarov will be coming to—to have consultative meetings with Chairman Dempsey."

"These meetings are routine and I think you can expect that the broad range of issues that we routinely talk about with our Russian counterparts will be brought up," Kirby said. "And I would certainly expect that Syria will be among that list."

There are news reports from Europe that Russian ships are sailing toward Syria carrying Russian marines and forces.

Putin said in Mexico in June that bridging differences with Washington on missile defense is difficult.

"I think that the missile defense problem will not be solved no matter if Obama is reelected or not," Putin told reporters in Los Cabos. "The U.S. is moving along the path of creating its own missile defense system for many years. I can see nothing that can change its approach."

Makarov surprised senior U.S. officials in May when he announced at a conference in Moscow that Russian military forces would conduct preemptive attacks on missile defense interceptor bases in Poland and other facilities in Europe during a future crisis.

"Taking into account a missile defense system’s destabilizing nature, that is, the creation of an illusion that a disarming strike can be launched with impunity, a decision on preemptive use of the attack weapons available will be made when the situation worsens," Makarov said.

Russian military leaders had threatened to target the defenses, but Makarov’s comments were the first threatening preemptive attacks.

The comments were part of Moscow’s war of words over missile defenses. The Russian government, in talks with U.S. officials, has demanded legally binding restrictions on the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile defenses that the Pentagon says are aimed at countering long-range Iranian missile attacks and are not designed to counter Moscow’s ICBMs.

The Obama administration has said it will not give in to Moscow’s demand for restrictions on defenses. However, Obama’s candid comments about future flexibility have raised concerns among missile defense advocates about limits on the defense as part of the administration’s conciliatory reset policy.

Russian officials continue to insist that the United States is planning missile defenses in Europe that could be used to bolster offensive strategic nuclear forces in a future nuclear conflict with Russia.

The state-run Russian news outlet RIA Novosti reported July 10 that Makarov would visit the Untied States from July 10 to July 13. A Defense Ministry spokesman told the news agency that his talks will focus on missile defenses.

The report quoted Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying earlier that Makarov would "make yet another attempt to explain [Russia’s] stance on missile defense at least at a chief of staff level."