When President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is ready to work together with the United States on building a missile defense system, it was quite a surprise, to say the least. The proposal, made in Putin's interview to NBC, appeared a few days before the June 2000 US-Russian summit, the expectations for which were very low, primarily because of the US intent to proceed with its missile defense program. So, when Putin said that Russia would not object to this program as long as it were a joint effort, it was quite an unexpected turn of events.
As it later turned out, Putin had said something different from what he was supposed to say. His proposal was subsequently explained to mean an offer to build a European missile defense, and neither Putin nor other Russian officials have ever mentioned missile-defense cooperation with the United States after that interview. Still, the proposal and the circumstances in which it was made tell much about the Russian approach to missile defense issues, and might affect the US-Russian dialogue on important arms control issues.
This memo considers Putin's proposal in the context of Russia's position on missile defense, to see what the Russian president may have meant when he was suggesting this idea and what, if any, impact on arms control negotiations this episode might have. [...]