MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin denied Monday that the Genoa summit brought a breakthrough in the tense dispute over the United States' plans to build a missile defense system, but said there had been progress on which negotiators could capitalize.
Putin's statement came a day after he and President Bush unexpectedly announced in the Italian city that Russia and the United States would link talks on missile defense with talks on cutting strategic nuclear weapons.
Russia has vehemently opposed the proposed U.S. nationwide missile-defense system. That system would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Russia says is the keystone of world strategic stability.
The Genoa announcement fueled speculation the Kremlin was giving way in the face of Bush's single-minded determination to push forward the system, and Putin on Monday appeared to try to stifle that perception.
"Of course there was no principal breakthrough. We confirmed our adherence to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty," Putin told a meeting of top Cabinet officials.
It was "not quite precise that ... (Russia) made concessions on the 1972 ABM treaty," echoed presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in an interview with ORT national television Monday night that "the position of Russia in support of the ABM treaty is well-known and no kind of change has occurred here."
But some Russian media saw it differently. "Russia gave up. The 1972 treaty has ceased to exist," the newspaper Kommersant said.
Bush, meanwhile, repeated his contention that the treaty is an outdated Cold War relic.
"Make no mistake about it, I think it's important to move beyond the ABM treaty," he said Monday.
Putin, while denying a breakthrough, said "at the same time, there is significant forward movement." Noting that U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was to come to Moscow this week to kick off talks on the newly linked issues, he said the negotiations should "play their own positive role in resolving these difficult issues."
The ABM treaty prohibits Russia and the United States from having nationwide missile-defense systems, on the premise that neither nation would launch a nuclear attack if it could not defend itself against retaliation.
Moscow says scrapping the treaty would undermine stability and spark a new arms race -- which would be a severe burden on economically struggling Russia. The United States counters that it needs a national missile defense to protect against possible attacks by small radical countries that may be developing nuclear weapons.
Despite Putin's warning that Russia would tear up existing arms control agreements if the United States dumps the ABM treaty and his suggestion that Moscow could respond by putting multiple warheads on existing single-warhead nuclear missiles, Russia's insistent objections have gained little ground.
Earlier this year, Russia presented NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson with a proposal for a smaller mobile defense system for Europe, apparently as a counter to the U.S. plan. But the White House read that proposal as Russian recognition that missile attacks from "rogue nations" are a potential danger.
Russian officials, apparently seeing themselves backed into a corner, then denied that Moscow recognized such a threat.