Putin's excuses

Peter Brooks:

YESTERDAY, the Kremlin seemed to put another nail in the coffin of U.S.-Rus sian relations by testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile supposedly capable of penetrating any missile-defense system.

Any missile-defense system? More like our missile-defense system.

In reality, the new Russian RS-24 long-range missile test is about a lot more than the advent of U.S. missile-defense systems. A lot more . . .

For starters, the missile's real targets include the domestic audience. Putin longs for Russia's heady superpower days - and so does much of his public. The once-proud Russian military, especially its strategic forces, have weakened from neglect; advanced U.S. missile defenses make it feel even more effete.

A new ICBM is a real shot in the arm. Demonstrations of renewed military might not only please his generals, but also distract from problems such as the retreat of democracy, corruption and rollbacks on media freedoms.

And the RS-24 isn't really an answer to the missile-defense sites that the United States plans to build in the Czech Republic and Poland, as Russia has implied. That system isn't a shield against Russia, but against Iran, whose runaway nuclear program might start pumping out bombs within the next two to three years.

More, it's meant to protect our European friends and allies as well as America. That's why NATO (which has been skeptical of missile defense) has expressed approval.

The Russkies point out that Iranian missiles can't reach Europe yet - or the United States. But "yet" is the operative term from our perspective: You can't just build a missile-defense base overnight.

And Russia's public complaints about the shield are plainly absurd - growling that the deployments are "destabilizing," and could turn Eastern Europe into a "powder keg."

In fact, the European missile-defense site doesn't affect Russia's strategic deterrent. Russia would launch its ICBMs at the United States over the North Pole, not Poland....

Truth is, the Kremlin just doesn't like NATO's expansion into the old Soviet empire. It's a reminder of how far Russia has fallen - and a complicating factor in exerting influence in its old stomping grounds. It certainly doesn't want to see any more former Soviet satellites in its "near abroad" join NATO - but Ukraine and Georgia just might. Consider all the saber-rattling as push-back.

The Russians are yet to make a rational argument against the missile defense system and this missile test does not advance their case but merely points to the absurdity of their arguments.


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