Russia may drop a number of modernization programs for its strategic nuclear forces if the Obama administration revises plans to go ahead with the missile defense shield in Central Europe, Colonel-General Nikolay Solovtsov, Commander of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, said Friday.
"If the Americans abandon plans to deploy the Third Positioning region and other elements of strategic missile defense, then we will undoubtedly respond appropriately," Solovtsov said, adding that in that case Russia will not need to finance a number of "highly expensive programs."
Although the message appears to be political, analysts in Russia believe that the underlying motive for the statement is largely financial. "Most likely, the commander's statement is closely linked with Russia's current financial problems, Alexander Khramchikhin, a senior analyst with the Moscow-based Institute for Political and Military Analysis told CBS News. "Russia is going through a serious financial crisis and would very much prefer to shelve quite a few military programs of its own simply because it does not have enough money to finance them."
But the way the message was delivered is classic Kremlin style. "They are putting a good face on a sorry business, trying to look as if today's Russia is on a par with the U.S., while in reality the financial potentials of the two countries are hardly even comparable."
The planned deployment of U.S. missile interceptors in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic has for quite a while been the main stumbling bloc in U.S.-Russia relations, with Moscow viewing the U.S. missile defense program in Central Europe as a direct threat to Russia's national security.
Today, Moscow hopes that Barack Obama's administration will be less determined than its predecessors to deploy the missile shield in Central Europe. "Moscow pins a great deal of hope on the new Obama administration, thinking that it will be easier to negotiate with a Democrat than with a Republican," – Alexander Khramchikhin said.
Washington's decision not to deploy the missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech republic may well turn out to be a double victory for Moscow – it will claim a diplomatic victory and will be able to save money that is badly needed to finance multiple other commitments made by the Kremlin domestically. If, however, the U.S. goes ahead with the missile defense as was planned, "the people behind the Kremlin wall will be very upset – they will have to fork up the money for something they do not really want to pay for," Khramchikhin said.