Report on Russia Missiles Suggests Gesture to U.S.
MOSCOW — A Russian news report on Wednesday that Russia is putting off its plan to deploy missiles near the Polish border raised speculation that the Kremlin is seeking ways to lower tensions with the United States now that a new administration has taken office.
The report, on the Interfax news agency, was attributed to an unidentified Russian defense official, and when contacted later in the day, other Russian foreign and defense officials in Moscow would not confirm or comment on it.
Interfax quoted the unnamed defense official as saying that, “These plans have been suspended,” referring to the Kremlin’s proposal to base Iskander missiles in the western region of Kaliningrad and direct them toward Europe.
The unnamed official was quoted as saying the Russian government had taken the step because Washington is not “pushing ahead” with the Bush administration’s proposal to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech republic to defend against what the administration had said was a threat from countries like Iran.
Asked about the Interfax report, NATO said through a spokesman that if confirmed, “It would be a positive step.”
The Kremlin has sharply criticized the Bush anti-missile system, contending that it was aimed at Russia. Bush officials had sought to soothe Russian concerns, but ´the issue had damaged relations between the two countries.
While the official quoted by Interfax said the United States was not going forward with the antimissile plan, the Obama administration is in fact only reviewing the plan, and has not publicly rejected it.
And it would seem unlikely that the Kremlin would offer the concession of shelving the missile plan without first obtaining a promise from the Obama administration that the American plan had been canceled.
While the Kremlin remained silent about the issue on Wednesday, Itar-Tass, the government-run news agency, quoted an unnamed senior defense official as saying that any such reports in the Russian media about the Kremlin pulling back were “pure fiction, total nonsense.”
The unnamed official suggested it would be a mistake for the Russians to withdraw their threat unilaterally while the issue was still playing out.
In an interview with Bloomberg News on Monday, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin indicated that he was hopeful that the Obama administration would reject the Bush plan.
“We have heard signals concerning anti-missile defense, and we know that people close to Mr. Obama say they should not hurry and the issue demands further analyses,” Mr. Putin said. “We are glad to hear such statements. Beyond that, our proposal on developing those systems is still on the agenda.”
President Obama and Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, spoke on the phone on Monday. The Kremlin said in a statement that the two leaders discussed “their intention to focus their efforts on renewing the potential of Russian-American relations, and on resolving issues in a constructive way.”