WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) briefed his Russian counterpart over the weekend on U.S. plans to shift its forces stationed around the globe, in some cases potentially bringing them closer to Russia's borders.
Rumsfeld and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov (search) met over a two-day period in St. Petersburg on a variety of security issues, including U.S. plans to reorient its forces away from its Cold War alignment and toward one aimed at fighting Islamic terrorist groups. President Bush is expected to discuss his plans for the military on Monday at a speech in Cincinnati.
Rumsfeld said in the coming years, forces will be leaving Germany during the worldwide shift. Some U.S. military units will return home, while the United States is expected to sign access agreements with new allies in Asia and elsewhere. Some new bases may have only a small regular American presence, but can be expanded rapidly in a crisis.
But any plans are far from final, Rumsfeld told reporters while flying home from Russia on Sunday. While there is no chance American troops would be based on Russian soil, Rumsfeld said "they have an interest" in the matter, presumably because some of the countries the United States is negotiating with are former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact (search) states.
"The Russians feel more and more that we are in their backyard. We feel like, well, we need to be there," said Eugene Rumer, an expert on the former Soviet Union at the National Defense University.
Often the United States and Russia don't agree, but no one issue appears to dominate the relationship. Thus far, the Bush and Putin administrations have been content to snipe at one another on specific matters, but as a whole they remain cordial.
"The relationship is a good one. It's one that has been evolving," Rumsfeld said.
Both defense chiefs discussed a variety of issues during Rumsfeld's visit, including:
_ Chechnya: Russia characterizes its conflict with Chechen separatists as part of the war on terrorism, but the U.S. government does not fully accept this view. Russia has sought American public support, but the Bush administration has held off.
U.S. defense officials say that there is an element of al-Qaida-related Islamic terrorism in Chechnya, but some separatist fighters are essentially secular rebels. Russian forces are also frequently accused of human rights violations in the conflict.
_ Georgia: Ivanov acknowledged concerns about the U.S. relationship with the government of Georgia. The American military has provided training for a Georgian counterterrorism force to fight Islamic extremists in the country, with which Russia has a growing border conflict.
_ NATO expansion: Russia is uneasy about some of the former Soviet republics in Europe and Warsaw Pact allies joining NATO, which now can put forces on Russia's border. The Russians may be trying to court Ukraine.
_ Central Asia: The U.S. military is steadily building relationships with several countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. According to defense officials, the aim is secure locations in the region to possibly base troops, as well as to aid these countries in fighting any domestic Islamic insurgencies.
But this, coupled with NATO's expansion, has made Russia uneasy, as more of its former holdings may now host U.S. troops.
_ Iran: The Bush administration protests many of Russia's commercial and energy ties to with Iran, which it says supports terrorism and pursues nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
_ Missile defense: Both Rumsfeld and Ivanov said they were open to cooperation on programs to defend against ballistic missile attacks. The U.S. military is expected to have an operational capability at a missile interceptor base in Alaska soon, and it is beginning upgrades on a radar system in Greenland that would track missiles fired over Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. Some Russians are concerned the radar might somehow be a threat.
In recent years, Russia and the United States have been at odds over the Bush administration's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and its decision to proceed with building a missile defense system.
_ Iraq: Russia opposed the U.S.-led Iraq invasion and has lately called for an international conference on the current situation there.
_ Weapons proliferation: Rumsfeld and Ivanov discussed plans to limit the spread of both weapons of mass destruction and other high-tech military systems, including portable surface-to-air missiles that officials fear could be used against airliners.