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American Forces Press Service

Russians Query Gates on Space Weapons, Arms Sales, Eastern Europe

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MOSCOW, Oct. 13, 2007 – Russian officers here attending the 175 year-old Military Academy of the General Staff were poised and ready when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert. M. Gates opened the floor to questions following his nearly hour-long speech.

About 500 officers in dress uniforms filled the school’s auditorium for Gates’ address on security challenges facing both the American and Russian militaries. The secretary told the students the United States is prepared and eager to work with the Russian military on common challenges.

The audience listened intently and patiently. After Gates spoke each few lines of his prepared text, a translator carefully converted his meaning to Russian. Twice, when Gates relayed a humorous anecdote, a hushed murmur swept the room.

Although his time was limited, when Gates finished the speech, he took four questions from the audience.

Without hesitation, the first student asked the U.S. defense leader and former CIA director about the potential for “weaponization of space” and whether there should be a treaty governing space weaponry.

Gates replied that the Chinese test of an anti-satellite weapon a few months ago caused concern. “We all have to be concerned about the weaponization of space,” Gates replied, “and we are certainly prepared to have conversations to deal with that.”

A second student asked whether the United States has any plans to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe.

U.S. officials have made arrangements to train up to a brigade-sized unit at training facilities in Bulgaria and Romania, Gates replied. “We have no continuing military presence in either of those countries. The reality is that we have not had anyone there recently and have no plans to have anyone there since our forces are stretched so thinly because of Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

“We have no plans and no intention of basing or stationing forces in either Georgia or Ukraine, even if we were to be invited.”

The third question dealt with Siberia, and caused a buzz among the audience. The questioner said he’d heard that a U.S. administration official had said Siberia should not be part of Russia.

“Whoever said it clearly didn’t know what they were talking about,” Gates said, drawing another buzz. “The United States for a long time has recognized the territorial integrity of Russia, and I think it is important for the territorial integrity of Russia to be preserved.

“I’ve never heard anybody question whether Siberia ought not to be part of Russia,” he continued. “That’s the silliest thing I ever heard.”

The final question referred to U.S. arms sales to Pakistan, Taiwan and other nations and Russian military shipments to Iran. A student asked how the Americans can complain about Russian arms sales, when they sell more than any other nation.

“Our principal concern (about Russia selling weapons) has two respects,” Gates replied. “(We question) selling weapons to Iran, that has made no secret of its aggressive ambitions, and selling weapons to Syria, which has served as a conduit for arming the Hezbollah and as a potential destabilization of Lebanon.”

Gates said he had discussed this subject in his talks with Russia’s top security officials and “at the end, they had decided to disagree.” This line drew the loudest murmur of all, almost recognizable as a chuckle. As the secretary’s party left the auditorium, some of the somber faces in the audience bore some grins and an occasional smile.

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