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Strategic dialogue with the USA and the New START extension – provisional “status report”


In 2020 the strategic dialogue between Russia and the US, suspended by the US side under President Barack Obama, was finally resumed after a strong impetus coming in April from the presidential level. On the Russian side the head is Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. Current US negotiator is President’s special envoy on arms control Marshall Billingslea.

Several “principals” meetings took place in Vienna (June 22nd, August 17-18th) and in Helsinki (October 5th). An expert-level meeting also took place in Vienna (July 27-31st).

It turned out that we have different and somewhat conflicting approaches to the very subject of the dialogue. Russia’s idea was to make a general review of security concerns our countries have, jointly assess them and try to identify issues that might become subjects of eventual future arms control and strategic stability agreements. A special topic was addressing prospects for the extension of the New START and eventual elaboration of a follow-up treaty that clearly will require full-scale dedicated negotiations.

American colleagues came with a different concept. For them, the goal is to adopt the framework of a follow-up agreement right now, before the end of the term of the current Administration. At the August Vienna meeting they have produced a blueprint of such an arrangement. It is based on two major elements – putting a cap on the entire stock of nuclear warheads Russia and the US currently possess and a short-term extension of the New START (one year). Another basic requirement was bringing China to the table of negotiations (this task was assigned to Russia).

The idea of putting a cap on all nuclear warheads may sound great, and the word “extension” is present. So, what is the problem?

First of all, American proposal equals to lifting all restrictions on delivery vehicles, launchers and platforms (submarines and heavy bombers). If this concept is adopted, all these assets become totally unaccountable and uncontrollable. They will no longer be subject to numerical or deployment limits, data exchanges, inspections and exhibitions, as they are now under the New START. For us this would mean a huge regress and practically the end of arms control as we know it.

It is noteworthy that under American proposal of nuclear warheads “freeze” their numbers are not supposed to be reduced – just “caped”. No restrictions on new productions, on developing and introducing new models as long as total numbers under the “freeze” are not exceeded.

American approach is also very selective. For instance, our colleagues want to ban and eliminate Russian systems that currently have no US equivalents and that are particularly difficult to counter with existing means while “absolving” their own prospective programs in the areas of high-precision long-range conventional weapons, intermediate and long range missiles, missile defense and space assets.

Limited extension of the New START the Americans propose is far from being “free of charge”. It has a number of conditions including total revision of the Treaty’s verification machinery that was agreed by the negotiators.

And there is the “involving China” precondition for reaching any agreement that would be both substantive and legally binding. The best they can do on a bilateral basis with Russia is making some “political commitments” that may be repealed at any moment. And naturally, the US nuclear allies – UK and France – do not matter and should be left outside of the framework that Russia is invited to accept.

This unacceptable package is now on the table with some minor adjustments. It does not address any of security concerns Russia has and evidently it can not be taken as a basis for any serious discussion.

Russia has proposed its own draft framework that is much broader and much more ambitious. Its underlying idea is to jointly develop a new strategic “equation” as well as emerging new kinds of weapons and prospective technologies. We want it to include not only traditional strategic arms such as ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers with their respective ordnance, but also all nuclear and non-nuclear weapons that are capable of accomplishing strategic tasks.

Therefore we have proposed to jointly develop a mutually acceptable list of weapons that pose threat to the national territory of each side, taking into consideration quantitative and qualitative aspects of balance of forces between Russia and its allies on one hand and the United States and its allies on the other hand, regarding both nuclear and conventional weapons, as well as the particularities of their deployment. Our proposals also touch on quantitative and geographic limitations on deployment of delivery means and launchers of ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missiles of all basing modes that are capable to strike the national territory of the other side. We are ready to define the structure and quantitative limitations for deployed nuclear warheads placed on delivery means that are capable to strike the national territory of the other side and to define quantitative and geographic limitations for deployment of missile defense systems.

Russian proposals envisage de-escalation measures, including creation of a mechanism to respond to crisis situations that may generate threat of a nuclear weapons use.

We believe it is necessary to develop common approaches to ensuring security of space activities and preventing an arms race in outer space, including prevention of placement of weapons in outer space.

Naturally, appropriate verification measures to control the implementation of obligations corresponding to the subject and the scope of these obligations should be agreed as well.

This is a realistic and balanced program that, if adopted, will really make the World a much safer place. But Americans are not “buying” and insist on their concept of “freeze only”. Under such circumstances we have made a special effort and proposed the final bid: Russia has agreed to a one-year freeze on nuclear warheads and a one-year extension of the New START provided there are no preconditions for that from the US side. The year that we would gain should be used for comprehensive bilateral negotiations on the future of controlling nuclear and missile weapons with mandatory assessment of all factors affecting strategic stability.

Our American counterparts’ response to Russian proposals was to maintain and even to toughen their preconditions for making a “deal”. This is we see their consistent claims to adopt a definition of a “nuclear warhead” and to submit sites where nuclear warheads may be produced and/or dismantled to a “watertight” verification regime. In practical terms this would mean intrusive foreign supervision over the entire military branch of national nuclear industry and ability to control its highly sensitive technological chains. For us this goes very far beyond what might really be required to support .a short-term “political commitment” proposed by the US and that we are ready to agree.

Our assessments were conveyed to American colleagues. No reaction or any further developments so far. We stand ready to continue discussions on all these matters with the next Administration – whatever it will be.