Russia's position on the link between missile defense is getting harder with each new statement on the U.S.-Russia arms control talks. In the March 2009 official statement missile defense was mentioned, but it was not included in the part of the address that was attributed to the president. When President Medvedev mentioned it in his speech in Helsinki in April, he did say that missile defense would complicate disarmament efforts, but he seemed to be making a general point, rather than referring to the U.S.-Russia negotiations currently underway. An official statement made in May made the connection more direct, suggesting that Russia would want to use the new treaty to deal with the issue of missile defense in Europe. And finally, speaking in Amsterdam on June 20, 2009, Medvedev explicitly said that "the he reductions we are suggesting are possible only if the United States addresses Russian concerns [about missile defense]".

It may seem that Medvedev was talking about the next round of talks - the statement was billed as a new bold arms reduction offer, so many assumed that it goes beyond of what is being discussed today. It is hard to say if that was indeed the case, for the statement is extremely thin on details, so it is quite possible that the "new offer" is in fact the current negotiating position.

Medvedev said that Russia is ready to reduce "the number of strategic delivery vehicles by a significant factor" relative to START ceiling of 1600 launchers. But this is hardly anything new or bold - Russia already has 814 accountable launchers and fewer than 600 "real" ones. With the warheads, Medvedev promised to reduce their number below the Moscow treaty level. This is hardly anything new or bold - I don't think anyone expected the number to be higher than that of the Moscow treaty (as I understand, it will be 1500).

I still hope that Russia will not torpedo the current talks by linking reductions with missile defense. But it may well decide that this is the right moment and try to get the United States to make some concessions on missile defense. That would be unfortunate, because it is highly unlikely that the United States would be ready to negotiate away its missile defense system. Even though the U.S. administration is fairly skeptical about missile defenses in general and the system in Europe in particular, it would find it much harder to kill the program if it would look like it is done under a pressure from Russia. I understand how Russia feels about missile defense, but trying to insert this issue into the current round of arms control talks is the best way to fail on both counts - Russia may find itself without a treaty and with U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe.