Putin Calls for More Nuclear Cuts, Maintenance of ABM Treaty

December 2000

By Philipp C. Bleek

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated on November 13 his country's continuing interest in deeper nuclear reductions and preservation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In a statement released by the presidential press service, Putin repeated Russia's longstanding call for reducing U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals to 1,500 deployed warheads each by 2008, and he called for consideration of subsequent cuts below that level. Putin emphasized that such reductions should be accompanied by "retention and strengthening" of the ABM Treaty. (See p. 30.)

President Bill Clinton responded positively to Putin's remarks during a November 19 interview with CNN, declaring that while he is unwilling to "compromise [his] successor's options," he supports future reductions of both strategic delivery vehicles and warheads. A senior administration official said that Putin's statement "does not contain many new elements" but noted that "there are a few new twists that require further study…at the expert level."

Clinton also indicated his support for deployment of a national missile defense but said that "it's very hard to justify wrecking the existing treaty system" before the required technology has been adequately developed. Clinton emphasized the desirability of cooperation on missile defense with Russia and China as well as "any other country that might want to participate."

Putin's interest in deeper nuclear reductions relates to an ongoing effort to restructure Russia's military forces. Russia's faltering economy has crippled its conventional forces and has slowed the acquisition of new missiles to replace aging strategic weapons. Following an acrimonious public debate among top-level Russian officials, the Kremlin announced in August that Russia would gradually reduce its nuclear forces to 1,500 deployed strategic warheads and cut conventional forces. (See ACT, September 2000.) On November 10, Russia announced that the main uniformed defense forces would be reduced by 365,000 to about 850,000 and that 235,000 civilian and military workers in 11 other branches of the military would be laid off.

Putin issued his statement just prior to a November 15 meeting with Clinton in Brunei, at which a "full range of security and non-security issues" were discussed, according to a senior administration official. Characterized by the official as a "working lunch," the meeting was the presidents' fourth in the past year and is expected to be their last before Clinton leaves office in January.


Yakovlev Makes a Suggestion

Vladimir Yakovlev, head of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, added a twist on November 13 to the ongoing discussion of the ABM Treaty, suggesting that, should treaty modification be necessary, missile defense interceptor missiles could be considered alongside offensive delivery vehicles in future arms control negotiations. Under such an arrangement, a treaty party wishing to increase the size of its missile defenses would have to reduce its offensive weapons commensurately.

Yakovlev's remarks were repudiated the next day by Yuri Kapralov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department for Security and Disarmament. During a news conference, Kapralov told reporters that, while Yakovlev is entitled to his personal views, only Putin's statement should be considered the government's "official position" and that Moscow's opposition to ABM Treaty modification remains firm. Kapralov also emphasized that Moscow is continuing dialogue "at all levels" with the incumbent administration as well as with "the teams of the contenders for presidency of the United States."