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Lavrov: Russia may pull out of nuke deal if U.S. expands missile defense

It appears that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Lavrov isn't quite ready to pop the champagne on the new nuclear arms reduction agreement due to be signed in Prague this week:

Russia will have the right to exit the accord if “the U.S.’s build-up of its missile defense strategic potential in numbers and quality begins to considerably affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow today.

The issue of missile defense was the major sticking point in negotiations over the treaty, particularly after the United States announced plans to build new facilities in Bulgaria and Romania.

As FP's Josh Rogin reported last month,  a workaround solution to the issue was reached, in which the issue of missile defense is not mentioned in the body of the treaty itself, but discussed in the preamble sections written by each side. The Obama administration has been adamant that the treaty does not limit the U.S. right to expand missile defense, and will likely make that case to skeptical Senate Republicans. Lavrov, apparently, didn't get the memo: 

Russia insists that the agreement includes a link between offensive and defensive systems.

“Linkage to missile defense is clearly spelled out in the accord and is legally binding,” Lavrov said today.

Despite it's best efforts to separate the issues of arms reduction and missile defense, Russia doesn't seem likely to let its opposition to the new system go. Lavrov knows that ratification of the treaty won't be a cakewalk for the Obama administation and that his statements can be used as ammunition by the treaty's opponents. So while Obama and Medvedev may put pen to paper this week, the next stage of the missile defense fight is just beginning.

Hat tip: Johnson's Russia List 

MICHAEL ECKELS/AFP/Getty Images