President Vladimir Putin’s recent address to the Federal Assembly about boosting Russia’s defense capabilities made quite a splash in the international community. The path to international security is complex, writes former foreign minister Igor Ivanov in The Moscow Times, but Russia has proven it is prepared to lead the way.

by Igor Ivanov

President Vladimir Putin’s recent address to the Federal Assembly made quite a splash in the international community. Unsurprisingly, particular attention was paid to the sections of the address in which the president spoke in detail about boosting Russia’s defense capabilities, creating new weapons systems and readiness to ensure national security.

The Kremlin’s critics in the West immediately accused the Russian leadership of ‘militarism’, ‘pandering to the military-industrial complex’, stoking international tensions, demonstrating aggressive tendencies and other such sins.

igor ivanov 2014Former minister Ivanov in 2014. Photo Wikimedia

Many analysts have drawn the disappointing conclusion that the tone of the address essentially determines Moscow’s priorities for the next six-year cycle and, moreover, excludes the possibility of meaningful cooperation between Russia and the West in the creation of a new world order.

However, are there sufficient grounds for such a hasty and pessimistic conclusion? Hardly anyone in their right mind, either in the West or in the East, will deny the fact that ensuring a country’s security is a task of foremost importance for any leader. Just how this task is met under particular historical circumstances is another matter.

Historical justice demands recognition of the fact that for a long time, Russia did everything it could to avoid a costly and absolutely unnecessary arms race with the West. Moscow has certainly done its part to meet the West halfway since the end of the Cold War. I would even say that Moscow has done most of the work. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Russia’s Western partners. 

Russia Denies it Violates the INF Treaty

I will give an example from my own personal diplomatic experience.

I remember quite well the truly titanic efforts that Russia channelled into its attempt to preserve the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The issue was central at numerous meetings between the presidents of the two countries. For many years, talks on the subject were held between the Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministries. Russia proposed various options for compromise that would have allowed the parties to preserve the Treaty.

The UN General Assembly supported the Treaty, adopting the appropriate resolution by an overwhelming majority vote in late 1999. Many countries, including allies of the United States, viewed the ABM Treaty as the cornerstone of international security.

Unfortunately, all our attempts to salvage it were in vain, despite the fact that Russia was among the first countries to offer support to the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001, suggesting that we fight international terrorism together.

When Moscow rejected Washington’s proposal that the two countries jointly withdraw from the ABM Treaty, the United States used the relevant article to withdraw unilaterally. In December 2001, the United States announced its withdrawal from the Treaty, giving Russia six months notice. The ABM Treaty was then terminated in 2002.

At the same time, the United States stepped up its efforts to create its own global missile defense system and announced that it would deploy elements of this system in Europe. Representatives of several U.S. administrations earnestly attempted to convince Russia that this was done solely for the purpose of countering the Iranian nuclear threat.

Russia condemned such actions..........

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Igor Ivanov is President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). He was Russia's Foreign Minister from 1998 to 2004.