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By Sarah Karush

Putin: U.S. ABM Withdrawal a 'Mistake'

Associated Press, December 13, 2001

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin called the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty a ``mistake'' Thursday, but said it would pose no military threat to Russia.

In a nationwide television address, Putin repeated Russia's frequently stated position that the 1972 treaty is a cornerstone of world security.

``This step was not a surprise for us. However, we consider it a mistake,'' Putin said. ``Now, when the world has confronted new threats, we must not allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.''

President Bush gave Moscow formal notice on Thursday that Washington was
withdrawing from the treaty. The decision comes into effect in six months.

Washington has long tried to persuade Russia to modify the treaty, which prohibits national missile defense systems. Despite a marked improvement in U.S.-Russian relations in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Moscow has refused to budge.

Putin said Russia's own security would not threatened by the withdrawal.

``Russia, like the United States and unlike other nuclear powers, has long had an effective system capable of penetrating missile defense,'' he said.

However, other nations, including China, may feel less secure. Chinese officials have warned that their country may respond by increasing the number of its nuclear warheads.

Putin discussed the ABM treaty on Thursday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, the Kremlin said. The two leaders emphasized the need for further cooperation to preserve stability in the world, Putin's press service said in a statement.

Putin also spoke to Indian Prime Minister Bihari Vajpayee, who expressed support for Russia's position, the Kremlin said.

In his speech, Putin said Russia was ready to make further cuts in its nuclear arsenal. Many observers predicted Russia would respond in the opposite way - by building up its nuclear capacity.

Last month, Bush said the United States would reduce the number of its nuclear warheads by two-thirds to between 1,700 and 2,200.

Putin said Thursday that Russia was ready to bring the number of its warheads down to between 1,500 and 2,200. He pushed for these cuts to be written into a formal treaty, something Bush has opposed.

Russia has long held that scrapping the ABM treaty would cause the whole edifice of arms control treaties to crumble. But Bush contends that the treaty is a relic of the Cold War and a roadblock to mounting a U.S. defense against missile attack.

Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of parliament's international affairs committee, said the ABM withdrawal would ``untie Russia's hands'' with respect to earlier arms control treaties.

Other lawmakers said the move was an insult, coming as it did against a backdrop of improved relations.

``The U.S. decision doesn't look right at the time when our two nations have become close partners in the coalition against terror,'' said Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the liberal Yabloko party.

Putin said the good relations between the two countries must be preserved and ``used to work out a new framework of strategic relations as soon as possible.''

See also:

The ABM Treaty

Associated Press, December 13, 2001

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