Yeltsin Signs Decree on Tactical Nuclear Weapons

On April 29, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree outlining a concept for the development and deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. This action appears to formalize numerous suggestions from some Russian officials that Moscow place greater emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons to compensate for the deterioration of its conventional forces. Details are not available on the document, which was signed during a closed-door session of the Russian Security Council, at which the commander-in-chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Vladimir Yakovlev, reportedly was asked to leave the room. Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of energy for non-proliferation and national security, expressed doubts on May 6 that Russia could undertake a major refurbishment of its tactical nuclear forces due to financial constraints.

U.S. Strategic Command estimates that Russia possesses between 7,000 and 12,000 or more tactical nuclear weapons, although most of these are not believed to be operationally deployed. The United States is attempting to ascertain the status of Russia's efforts to dismantle thousands of tactical nuclear weapons in accordance with the 1991 reciprocal unilateral initiatives announced by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev. To this end, the United States and Russia agreed at the March 1997 Helsinki summit to explore confidence-building and transparency measures related to tactical nuclear weapons (as well as nuclear long-range sea-launched cruise missiles) in the context of START III negotiations. The Clinton administration, however, refuses to commence official negotiations on that treaty until after the Russian Duma has ratified START II—a move that is not likely any time soon due to the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Security Council Secretary Vladimir Putin claimed that the April 29 meeting had been scheduled in advance and was not a response to NATO's action.