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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Russia

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia

June 2018

Updated: June 2018

In February 2018, Russia announced that it had met its New START limits on strategic nuclear weapons and had reduced its total number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,444, delivered by 527 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. As of early 2018, Russia’s entire nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 6,850 warheads, including approximately 2,500 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation has declined since 2013, though some bilateral efforts to secure nuclear material still continue. The number of Russian entities under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions has increased since 2014, which marks the start of a decline in U.S.-Russian relations. Beginning in June 2014, the State Department has alleged that Russia produced and tested a missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Russia has responded with its own allegations of U.S. violations. Russia completed destruction of its chemical weapons, as obligated by the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2017. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention, but the United States maintained as recently as 2016 that it cannot be certain that Russia is complying with the treaty.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Nuclear Doctrine
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • New START
  • Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

2000

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1983

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

2008

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2007

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member, but Russia claims to adhere to the group’s rules and control list

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 2000, entered into force in 2007

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with the United States

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Russia has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to a February 2018 statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russia has deployed 1,444 strategic warheads deployed on 527 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers. Under New START, Russia can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable warheads until February 2021 when the treaty expires. As of 2018, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 6,850 warheads, including approximately 920 strategic warheads in storage, roughly 1,830 tactical warheads, and approximately 2,500 warheads that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • As of 2018, Russia’s estimated 318 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,138 warheads, include the:
    • RS-12M (three variants)
      • RS-12M (Topol [SS-25 Sickle])
      • RS-12M1 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (mobile)
      • RS-12M2 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (silo)
      • Each variant carries a single 800 kt warhead, 10,500-11,000 km range.
    • RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Mobile and silo versions.
      • Each carries four 100kt MIRV warheads, 10,500 km range.
    • RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto)
      • ​​​​​​​Each carries six 400 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 10,000 km range.
    • RS-20V (SS-18 Satan) 
      • Each carries ten 500-800 kt MIRV warheads, 10,200-16,000 km range.
    • RS-26 Rubezh
    • RS-28 (SS-30 Sarmat)
      • Also known as the “Son of Satan” or “Satan 2.”
      • Russia is currently developing the RS-28 to replace the RS-20V by the end of the decade, with deployment expected to occur in the early 2020s.
      • It is reportedly being developed by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, also known as the State Rocket Center (SRC) Makayev.
      • The Sarmat is expected to be equipped with 10 MIRVs, though some sources list an exaggerated 15 MIRVs.
    • Barguzin (rail-based version of SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Russian defense officials have indicated that it is intended to revive and upstage the former Soviet nuclear trains and is in the early stages of design development.
      • Russia successfully completed an ejection test in November 2016 and expects to that nuclear trains will enter into service between 2018 and 2020 and that they will remain in service until 2040.  
  • All of Russia’s ICBMs were developed and entered service from the 1980’s to the 1990’s with the exception of the RS-24 which entered service in 2010 and RS-26 and Rs-28 which are still under development.
  • While the number of Russian ICBMs is set to fall below 300 by the early 2020s, Russia is currently modernizing its land-based missiles and plans to increase the share of missiles equipped with multiple warheads.  

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • Russia is capable of delivering up to 768 warheads through Delta IV submarines, Delta III submarines and the new Borey-class submarines (to replace aging Delta III and IV submarines).
    • Delta IV
      • ​​​​​​​Part of Russia’s Northern Fleet.
      • Armed with 16 RSM-54 Sineva (SS-N-23 Skiff) missiles. 
      • Reportedly upgraded to carry the new R-29RMU2 Layner missiles (a modified Sineva missile).
    • Delta III
      • Part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.
      • Armed with 16 RSM-50 Volna (SS-N-18 Stingray) missiles.
    • Borey class and Borey-A class
      • Armed with 16 RSM-56 Bulava missiles.
      • Russia is developing five upgraded Borey-A class submarines to be delivered by the mid-2020s.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles include the RSM-50, RSM-54, RSM-56, and reportedly the R-29RMU2 and include a total of 176 missile launchers on all SSBNs.
    • RSM-50 (SS-N-18 M1 Stingray)
      • ​​​​​​​Deployed in 1978.
      • Equipped with three 50kt MIRVs, 6,500-8,000 km range
    • RSM-54 (SS-N-23 M1 Sineva)
      • ​​​​​​​Deployed in 2007.
      • Equipped with four 100 kt MIRVs, 8,300 km range. 
    • RSM-56 (SS-N-32 Bulava)
      • Deployed in 2014.
      • Equipped with six 100 kt MIRVs, 8,000+ km range.
      • Since its inaugural test in 2004, the Bulava missile has a long record of failed launches, the most recent being in 2016.  
    • R-29RMU2
      • ​​​​​​​Several sources claim it entered service in 2014, some have speculated that the missile can be equipped with up to 10 warheads, however, other estimates put the number at 4 warheads.

Strategic Bombers

  • As of 2018, the Russian Air Force operates 68 long-range bombers which can carry a total of 616 warheads.
    • Tu-95 MS6
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. 
    • Tu-95 MS16
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles.
    • Tu-160
      • Capable of carrying Kh-55 (AS-15B) cruise missiles or 12 Kh-15 (AS-16) short range attack missiles. 
  • All three aircraft are categorized as strategic heavy bombers and are limited by New START. 
  • All three bombers can be equipped with gravity bombs.
  • The Russian Air Force also operates a multipurpose medium-range supersonic bomber, the Tu-22M, which is considered a tactical nuclear delivery platform for various types of cruise missiles and is not limited by New START.
  • Russia has begun studying designs for a next-generation of strategic bombers meant to replace the entire fleet of Tu-95’s, Tu-160’s, and Tu-22M’s. The new bomber program is expected to develop a prototype by the early 2020’s.

Nuclear Doctrine

Under Russia’s military doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, it “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

U.S. Defense Department officials have said that Russian doctrine includes a so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which envisions the limited first use of nuclear weapons to attempt to end a large-scale conventional conflict on terms favorable to Russia. However, some experts have called into question whether “escalate to de-escalate” is part of Russian doctrine. 

Fissile Material

Russia has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material (highly enriched uranium [HEU] and plutonium) for weapons purposes.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The Kremlin announced a halt to HEU production for weapons in 1989 and the cessation of plutonium production for weapons in 1994.
  • At the end of 2016, Russia’s HEU stockpile was estimated at 679 metric tons, with a margin of error of 120 metric tons (making it, absent the margin of error, the largest HEU stockpile). Approximately 20 metric tons are designated for civilian use, the second largest stockpile of civilian HEU after the United States.
  • Russia concluded a joint program in 2013, the U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, in which Moscow downblended 500 metric tons of its excess weapons grade HEU into a reactor fuel unsuitable for bombs that it then sold to the United States as light water reactor fuel.
  • A second U.S. funded program, the Material Conversion and Consolidation project (MCC), blended down 16.8 metric tons of HEU by the end of 2014.

Plutonium

  • In April 2010, Russia closed its last plutonium production facility, although it has not discounted a return to producing separated plutonium for fast-breeder reactors in the future.
  • Its total plutonium stockpile is, as of the end of 2016, estimated at 185.2 metric tons, with an 8 metric ton margin of error.
    • The weapons-grade stockpile is estimated at 128 ± 8 metric tons.
    • 57.2 metric tons of separated reactor-grade plutonium are declared for civilian use.
  • Russia committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium, beginning in 2018, under a 2000 agreement with the United States entitled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
    • However, in October 2016, Russia, citing the U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, suspended its implementation of the deal and conditioned the resumption of implementation on the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia and a restructuring of NATO’s forces. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because this alternative method would not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor-grade.  

Proliferation Record

  • The United States and independent analysts have long cited Russia as a key supplier of nuclear and missile-related goods and technology to a variety of countries, including states of proliferation concern such as Iran and Syria.
    • In response, the United States has often levied sanctions on Russian entities believed to be involved in such proliferation activities.
    • Beginning in the mid-2000s, the number and frequency of Russian entities placed under U.S. proliferation sanctions declined, possibly as a result of an increasing Russian commitment to controlling sensitive exports; however, that number has greatly increased since 2014.
  • Russia remains a source of illicit sensitive technology pertaining to missile proliferation.
  • The vast former Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons complexes, including their former scientists, have also been seen as a potential source of arms, materials, and knowledge for other regimes or non-state actors.
    • The United States and other countries have pursued programs dedicated to mitigating this potential threat by helping Russia and other former Soviet states secure or destroy facilities, materials, and weapon systems, and gainfully employ former scientists in non-arms related work.
    • However, there has been a significant decline in U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation since 2013, despite continued cooperation in cleaning out weapon-grade material from third countries such as Poland in 2016.
  • After suspending the PMDA, Russia likewise suspended its participation in a 2013 cooperative agreement on nuclear and energy related research and terminated a third agreement from 2010 on exploring options for converting research reactors from weapons-usable fuel.

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Biological Weapons

  • The Soviet Union maintained an extensive offensive germ weapons program, including research into plague, anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, glanders, and hemorrhagic fever.
  • The United States has repeatedly voiced concern over the status of Russia’s inherited Soviet germ warfare program. However, in 2011, Russia maintained that it is in compliance with the BWC.
  • Nonetheless, the State Department in April 2016 maintained that Russia’s annual BWC confidence-building measures submissions since 1992 have “not satisfactorily documented whether this program [the inherited Soviet offensive biological research and development program] was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes in accordance with Article II of the BWC.” 
  • The lack of transparency surrounding this program prevents the U.S. from reaching more concrete conclusions.

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Chemical Weapons

  • Upon entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on Dec. 5, 1997, Russia declared that it possessed approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, the largest amount in the world at the time. A dispute lingers over whether Russia has fully declared all of its chemical weapons-related facilities and past production.
  • On September 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia had completed the destruction of its full chemical weapons arsenal.
  • The State Department stated in 2016 that it “cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention: for declaration of its CWPFs [chemical weapons production facilities]; its CW development facilities; or its CW stockpiles.”
  • The UK accused Russia of assassinating a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK using the chemical agent Novichok on March 4, 2018.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

However, in July 2014 the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015 and 2016.

For its part, Russia has raised concerns about U.S. compliance with the treaty. 

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as New START, entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLBMs, and bombers by 2018. Both sides met the limits by the Feb. 5, 2018 deadline, and the limits will hold until the treaty's expiration in February 2021. In addition, the treaty contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement.

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Russia, along with China, has attached significant priority in the CD to negotiating an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). However, the United States and other countries have opposed this initiative. In keeping with its official stance in support of a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, Russia submitted a draft program of work to the CD in March 2016 calling for the establishment of a working group to recommend “effective measures to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.” In 2016, Russia also proposed that the CD should negotiate a new convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism, in order to fill several gaps it claims exist in the CWC.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The Russian government has signed and ratified protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. In 2011 Russia signed and ratified Protocol I and II for the African zone. In 2014, it ratified the protocols for the Central Asian zone but has yet to ratify the protocols for the Southeast Asian zone.

Nuclear Security Summits
Russian participation in Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, and the 2014 NSS in The Hague. Russia did not participate in the most recent NSS, held in Washington, DC in 2016. The Russian boycott of the 2016 NSS came amid continued souring of U.S.-Russian relations. At the time, Moscow declared, “We do not see added value coming out of these meetings.”

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, Russia reached an agreement with the United States to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Russia has officially supported the UN resolution but maintained that only the OPCW can determine violations of the CWC and that it did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter against Syria without confirming the use of chemical weapons. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.  

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. Russia stood by the Assad regime, claiming that the airstrike had hit an opposition depot housing chemical weapons. In November 2017, Russia blocked investigations into identifying who has used chemical weapons in Syria from continuing.

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the accord "will favorably affect the general situation in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf." Russia backed the JCPOA on the grounds of supporting nonproliferation especially since its borders fall well within the range of Iranian ballistic missiles. Furthermore, Russia stands to accrue significant economic gains in Iran with the lifting of nonproliferation sanctions. For example, in 2016 Russia concluded the delivery of an S-300 air defense missile system worth $800 million to Iran in a deal that had been suspended since 2010. Russia has continued to support the JCPOA following the Trump administration's violation and withdrawal from the deal in May 2018.

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Posted: June 20, 2018

Urgent Steps to Avoid a New Nuclear Arms Race

With U.S.-Russia relations at the lowest point since the end of the Cold War, arms control efforts are even more vital to contain nuclear risks.


June 2018
By Thomas M. Countryman and Andrei Zagorski

For more than 50 years, the leaders of the United States and Russia have recognized the value of nuclear arms control. In the past two decades, agreements between Washington and Moscow resulted in significant reductions in both nations’ nuclear weapons arsenals in a reciprocal, transparent, and verifiable manner.

Nuclear arms control treaties and the associated dialogue they fostered have enabled both countries to reduce and manage the risks of nuclear confrontation and competition throughout the course of the Cold War and beyond. Today, with relations among Washington, Moscow, and Europe at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, nuclear arms control is even more vital to contain nuclear risks, ease worsening U.S.-Russian tensions, and prevent a new nuclear arms race that would be costly and dangerous.

Russian servicemen march in Red Square May 6 during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Moscow. Russia marked the 73rd anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)Nuclear arms control has been particularly important during past times of U.S.-Russian tensions. It minimized the possibility for miscalculation or misinterpretation of military activities and headed off unintended or inadvertent escalation. The harrowing experience of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 demonstrated the critical importance of effective dialogue. The maintenance of strategic stability is key to ensuring that U.S. and Russian nuclear policies are more predictable and less dangerous to one another and to the world.

Measures such as reciprocal obligations, timely implementation of agreements, and verifiable compliance with nuclear arms control commitments have assured the leadership on each side that the other was not seeking military advantage. Yet, should the nuclear arms control regime be permitted to erode or even collapse, such assurances would evaporate. Each side would be more likely to adapt worst-case assumptions and move toward unconstrained nuclear competition.

Arms control is also vital for addressing mounting challenges of nuclear proliferation. Should the United States and Russia enter a new nuclear arms race, it would be more difficult to prevent further spread of nuclear weapons. It would diminish the effectiveness of the regime based on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which is central to addressing the acute proliferation challenges posed by North Korea and Iran. This would further complicate the maintenance of peace and stability.

The world should share concern that not only is further reduction in nuclear stockpiles difficult in the near term, but even existing nuclear arms control agreements are now at risk. Washington and Moscow are pursuing costly programs to replace and upgrade their Cold War-era strategic nuclear arsenals, with each side exceeding reasonable deterrence requirements.

Further, a compliance dispute threatens the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is set to expire in early 2021, unless it is extended by agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents or replaced by a follow-on accord. Should the INF Treaty collapse and New START expire without replacement, there will be no longer any legally binding limitations on the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles. The consequences for effective cooperative management of nuclear risks and for nuclear nonproliferation would be severe.

Looking Ahead

In light of the challenging circumstances, Russia and the United States should pursue, on a priority basis, effective steps to reduce nuclear risks and tensions and to avoid a renewed nuclear arms race by strengthening nuclear arms control instruments. The most recent authoritative statements from both capitals indicate
that this is not impossible.

The report of the 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, conducted by the Trump administration, recognizes that arms control measures can “contribute to U.S., allied, and partner security by helping to manage strategic competition among states,” as well as serving to provide a “useful degree of cooperation and confidence among states” and “foster transparency, understanding, and predictability in adversary relations, thereby reducing the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation.”1

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addresses U.S. and Georgian troops participating in the Noble Partner 2017 multinational military exercise on August 1, 2017. Pence arrived in Tbilisi from Estonia, where he reaffirmed U.S. support for the Baltic nations and accused neighboring Russia of seeking to "redraw international borders" and "undermine democracies." (Photo: John W. Strickland/U.S. Army)In addition to reconfirming the U.S. commitment to arms control, the report emphasizes the willingness of Washington to engage in a “prudent arms control agenda” and to “consider arms control opportunities” and further nuclear reductions. The U.S. Strategic Command, which directs U.S. nuclear forces, confirms that it remains “committed to strategic stability with China and Russia.”2

In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted in an interview with NBC that New START would expire soon and stated the readiness of Russia to continue a dialogue on nuclear arms control, to maintain the regime established by the treaty, and to discuss further reductions in nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles.3 Russian officials link any further progress in nuclear arms reductions to addressing other issues that may affect strategic stability, such as the deployment of a global U.S. missile defense system; development of high-precision, non-nuclear strategic offensive arms, and the possibility of offensive weapons in outer space.

As their March 20 telephone conversation revealed, Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump keep the need to curb a nuclear arms race on their mutual agenda.4 Pursuing such measures does not imply or require a restoration of “business as usual” between the two countries. In fact, when Russian-U.S. political relations are at their worst, it remains in the vital interests of the United States, Europe, and Russia to contain nuclear tensions and prevent a new nuclear arms race.

Recognizing the difficulties for returning to a comprehensive and complex bilateral and multilateral arms control agenda, the United States and Russia can and should take a number of steps in that direction as soon as possible. Following are the most urgent steps.

Immediately extend New START. On February 5, 2018, the United States and Russia achieved the central limits of New START, which took full effect on that date.5 The treaty imposes important bounds on strategic nuclear competition between the two superpowers. As long as the Russian and U.S. programs of nuclear forces modernization remain within the limits established by the treaty, it meets its objective of managing the strategic stability between the two nuclear states.

Although due to expire in February 2021, the treaty can be extended by up to five years by agreement between the two countries, without requiring further action by the U.S. Congress or the Russian Duma. Extending the treaty until February 2026 would preserve its significant security advantages, not only the numerical limits but also the mutual transparency provided by the treaty’s verification measures. Those measure include data exchanges, notifications, and inspections. An extension would buy time for the two countries to discuss other stabilizing measures, including further reductions in their nuclear stockpiles.

Russian officials suggested in 2017 a dialogue with Washington on an extension of New START, but U.S. officials wanted to wait until the treaty’s limits were achieved and the Nuclear Posture Review was completed. Both conditions are now met. A swift extension of the treaty until 2026 could have the important benefit of improving the bilateral political atmosphere.

On April 11, Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the administration will begin a review soon to assess the “pros and cons” of extending the treaty. Anita Friedt, acting assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, told the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on April 19 that an extension “is something we’re looking at” but that there is no target date for the completion of the review. Friedt added that the administration will take into account Russian compliance with other arms control agreements when weighing whether to extend New START.6

Agreement on an extension would provide a positive achievement on the U.S.-Russian agenda and would help to fulfill their disarmament commitments under Article VI of the NPT. If New START is not extended, then in 2021 there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972. Unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition, in numbers and technology, would spark an arms race even more dangerous than that of the 1950s and 1960s.

Resolve the INF Treaty compliance dispute. The INF Treaty made a major contribution to European and global security by eliminating all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The treaty is now at risk, with the United States and Russia exchanging charges of treaty violations and the United States stating that it will not allow Russia to gain a military advantage through its violation.

A collapse of the INF Treaty would end a landmark arms-reduction agreement; open the door to a U.S.-Russian arms race in intermediate-range missiles; further complicate relations among the United States, Europe, and Russia; and have negative repercussions for the entire arms control agenda.

So far, the United States and Russia have reaffirmed their commitment to the treaty and have taken some steps to discuss their noncompliance complaints. Two meetings of the Special Verification Commission, established by the treaty to resolve compliance disputes, took place in 2016 and 2017. Those talks helped clarify the complaints, but did not result in any progress on resolving the disputes.

The United States and Russia should intensify such efforts. As a next step, they should provide each other with demonstrations and technical briefings to answer U.S. questions about the range of the Russian 9M729 (SSC-8) ground-launched cruise missile and Russian questions about the ability of MK-41 launchers in Romania and Poland, intended for Standard Missile-3 missile defense interceptors, to hold offensive missiles.

Yet, no further meetings of U.S. and Russian technical experts are scheduled to address this dispute. A resolution requires high-level leadership from the White House and the Kremlin.

Maintain regular dialogue on strategic stability. After a break of several years, U.S. and Russian officials held a round of strategic stability consultations in September 2017, but subsequently postponed a follow-up round to be held in March. They should make this dialogue a continuing and regular part of the U.S.-Russian agenda.

Russian Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile systems roll through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)Given the evolving nature of strategic stability, maintaining stability today is a more complex question than during the Cold War. Whereas strategic stability previously focused only on U.S. and Russian strategic offensive nuclear forces, with some attention to ballistic missile defense, today’s stability model must account for third-country actors and new concepts and technological advances, such as precision-guided conventional strike systems and actions in the cyber and space domains.

The dialogue should also include U.S., NATO, and Russian military issues, with a view to enhancing understanding and avoiding misperceptions. One topic should be the so-called Russian escalate to de-escalate doctrine, which posits a limited use of nuclear weapons in order to stop an overwhelming conventional attack on Russia. Russian officials deny this is an official doctrine, but it is taken as a reality by NATO planners and in the Nuclear Posture Review. An earnest dialogue on doctrine is essential in order to avoid lowering the threshold for use of nuclear weapons.

U.S. and Russian diplomatic and military officials should pursue a broad, systematic, and continuing dialogue on these matters with a view to understanding the other’s concerns; clarifying misperceptions about key issues, including each side’s nuclear use doctrine; and at some point defining mandates for negotiations on specific issues. One important and most welcome first step in this direction would be publication by Russia of its more detailed nuclear posture in a format similar to that of the Nuclear Posture Review report.

Sustain military-to-military dialogue on key conventional issues. Over the past five years, the instances of U.S. and NATO military aircraft and warships and Russian military aircraft and warships operating in close proximity to one another have increased dramatically. NATO has deployed ground forces to the Baltic states and Poland, putting them in closer proximity to Russian ground forces in Russia and Kaliningrad. These raise the prospect of accidents and miscalculations that would be in neither side’s interest and that could escalate to a full-fledged armed conflict, especially in the Baltic region or the Black Sea.

Dangerous military incidents and brinkmanship have become a routine matter, as they were during the Cold War. The United States, NATO, and Russia have reactivated past arrangements in order to prevent incidents at sea and in the air and should continue to improve and update such arrangements. NATO and Russia should launch a sustained military-to-military dialogue on how to arrest any unintended or inadvertent escalation, avoid miscalculations, and reduce the risk of hazardous military activities in Europe.

Conclusion

Despite the current tensions and the political difficulty of returning to the arms control agenda, the prevention of a new nuclear arms race requires joint U.S.-Russian leadership and urgent steps. There is the opportunity to reduce nuclear risk by recognizing that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Important steps in that direction would come from extending New START, preserving the INF Treaty while resolving compliance disputes, and resuming discussion of the strategic stability agenda, from which both sides and the broader world community will benefit.

ENDNOTES

1. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review,” February 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF.

2. John E. Hyten, statement to the U.S. House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, March 7, 2018, http://www.stratcom.mil/Portals/8/Documents/2018%20USSTRATCOM%20HASC-SF%20Posture%20Statement.pdf?ver=2018-03-07-125520-187.

3. Office of the President of Russia, “Interview to American Channel NBC,” March 10, 2018, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/57027.

4. “Readout of President Donald J. Trump’s Call with President Vladimir Putin of Russia,” The White House, March 20, 2018, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/readout-president-donald-j-trumps-call-president-vladimir-putin-russia-3/.

5. Arms Control Association, “New START at a Glance,” March 2018, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/NewSTART.

6. Kingston Reif, “Administration to Review New START,” Arms Control Today, May 2018.


Thomas M. Countryman, a former acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, is chair of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association. Andrei Zagorski is director of the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Regulation at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations and a professor of international relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. This paper is adapted from an April 2018 statement by the Deep Cuts Commission, of which both are members.

Posted: June 1, 2018

Ex-Spy Survives Nerve Agent Poisoning

Ex-Spy Survives Nerve Agent Poisoning


Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was diYulia Skripal, who was poisoned along with her father, Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, speaks to news media representatives in London on May 23. (Photo: Dylan Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)scharged from a UK hospital, two months after being poisoned with a nerve agent on March 4. His daughter Yulia, also poisoned, was discharged in early April and moved to a secure location. Although Russia has denied responsibility, UK officials have blamed Moscow for the use of a toxin known as Novichok against the Skripals. At a May 18 news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin disputed UK allegations, saying that “if, as our British colleagues have insisted, a military-grade poison had been used, the man would have died right away.” Noting his hospital discharge, Putin wished Skripal “good health.”—TERRY ATLAS

 

Posted: June 1, 2018

Putin Says New ICBM Set for 2020

Putin Says New ICBM Set for 2020


Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia’s new, heavy, long-range missile, capable of carrying up to 15 independently targetable nuclear warheads, will be operational in 2020, the Russian state news agency Tass reported May 18. The RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has been under development since the 2000s to replace the R-36M2 Voevoda ICBM operational since 1988, Tass said. The missile system is one of the weapons Russia is advancing to reduce the impact of U.S. missile defenses on Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Putin told the same meeting of military and defense sector officials that Russia will deploy the Avangard hypersonic-glider warhead beginning in 2019, according to Russia’s RT news service. RT described the Avangard as able to carry a nuclear warhead through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, making it virtually impossible to intercept.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: June 1, 2018

TAKE ACTION: 800 Warheads. 10 Minutes. One Decider.

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Action Alert for Madam Secretary Viewers (May 2018)

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U.S. President Donald Trump leaves CIA headquarters accompanied by the omnipresent officer carrying the nuclear "football" (Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

The U.S. president has sole authority to order the launch of roughly 800 of the United States' 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads within 10 minutes—no Congressional authorization is required. Still more weapons are available for him or her to launch within hours of an initial strike.

Concern about this authority is not limited to President Trump, though his confrontational style in responding to critics and experts, his cavalier approach to nuclear weapons, and his naiveté about protocol undermines confidence in his ability to act responsibly in a crisis. 

We need to restrict the President's power to make the ultimate bad decision and to unilaterally trigger a nuclear war. Here's how: 

A growing number of Senators and Representatives have become cosponsors of the "The Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017," introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). This legislation would prohibit the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress.

Current House cosponsors 
Current Senate cosponsors

 

On May 3, signatures of over 500,000 Americans were delivered to Congress in support of this legislation. Seventeen national membership and advocacy groups, including the Arms Control Association, brought the signatures in several boxes to Capitol Hill. 

But we need your name to be added to those. 

Contact your Senators and Representative and urge them to become cosponsors of this urgently needed legislation (S. 200 in the Senate, H. 669 in the House) to check the president's authority to launch nuclear weapons.

Because, as President Reagan concluded in 1984, "A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought."

 

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Posted: May 20, 2018

Administration to Review New START

The issue is whether to extend beyond 2021 the treaty capping nuclear arsenals.


May 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration plans to conduct an interagency review on whether to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, according to two Trump administration officials.

Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 11 that the review would begin soon and assess the “pros and cons” of extending the treaty. Expiration of the accord in 2021, without a replacement, would remove numerical caps on U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since the 1970s.

Anita Friedt, acting assistant secretary of the state for arms control, verification, and compliance, discusses New START at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting April 19.  (Photo: Terry Atlas/Arms Control Association)Anita Friedt, acting assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, told the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting April 19 that an extension “is something we’re looking at” but that there is no target date for the completion of the review. Friedt added that the administration will take into account Russian compliance with other arms control agreements when weighing whether to extend New START. The United States has accused Russia of being in violation of several arms control treaties and commitments, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Signed in 2010, New START requires the United States and Russia each to reduce strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems by Feb. 5, 2018, a deadline that both countries met. The treaty also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance with these limits.

New START is set to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, although, under its terms, it can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

But U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the treaty and, in a January 2017 phone call, responded negatively to a suggestion from Russian President Vladimir Putin that their countries work to extend the treaty, according to Reuters. In a March 1 interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin said Russia is willing to have a dialogue with the United States about extending New START. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Friedt noted that if the treaty expires with nothing to replace it, “then we will have less insight” into Russia’s nuclear forces. But she hinted that the administration will take its time before making its decision. An early extension would not “necessarily help” improve the U.S.-Russian arms control relationship, she said. “We have until 2021, and I think we should look at it
very carefully.”

Some Republican members of Congress, such as Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), have expressed concern about a potential extension given Russia’s violation of other arms control agreements and development of new nuclear weapons delivery systems not limited by New START. “Given that set of circumstances, I think we should take a serious second look at extending” New START, he said at an April 11 Senate hearing.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have prohibited the use of funds to extend New START unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2017.) The final version of the authorization bill signed by Trump in December did not include that provision.

Posted: May 1, 2018

OPCW Confirms Novichok Use

OPCW Confirms Novichok Use


The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in an April 12 report confirmed UK conclusions about the chemical agent used in a March Members of the UK military work April 24 in Salisbury, England near the spot where Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia became critically ill several weeks earlier due to exposure to a Russian nerve agent.   (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)4 attack that left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in critical condition. The United Kingdom accused Russia of poisoning the Skripals using a rare Russian-developed nerve agent, Novichok. (See ACT, April 2018.)

Russia denied responsibility for the attack and possessing Novichok-class agents, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman characterizing the OPCW report as “a continuation of a crude provocation against the Russian Federation on the part of the UK special services.” UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in an April 12 statement, extolled the independence and rigor of the OPCW analysis, which was conducted at four separate laboratories. “There can be no doubt of what was used, and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible,” he said. “Only Russia has the means, motive, and record.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: May 1, 2018

High-Level Group Calls for Extension of New START Agreement

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U.S., European, and Russian Nuclear Experts & Former Officials Issue Urgent Call for Trump and Putin to Take Steps to Avoid a New Nuclear Arms Race

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U.S., European, and Russian Nuclear Experts & Former Officials Issue Urgent Call for Trump and Putin to Take Steps to Avoid a New Nuclear Arms Race

For Immediate Release: April 18, 2018

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104.

(Washington, Hamburg, Moscow)—With relations between Washington, Moscow, and Europe at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, a distinguished, high-level group is warning that urgent steps need to be taken to contain nuclear risks and tensions and prevent a new nuclear arms race.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the group notes that: “Existing nuclear arms control agreements are at risk, and both sides are pursuing costly programs to replace and upgrade their Cold War-era strategic nuclear arsenals, each of which exceeds reasonable deterrence requirements. A compliance dispute threatens the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will expire in 2021 unless extended.”

Among the signatories to the statement are: Des Browne, former Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom, Richard R. Burt, former U.S. negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty; Tom  Countryman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association; retired Major General Dvorkin, a chief researcher at the Center for International Security at the Institute of Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations; Gen. Victor Esin, former Chief of Staff and Vice Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces; Volker Rühe, former Minister of Defense, Germany; Strobe Talbott, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, former Chairman, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The statement was organized by the members of a 21-member German-Russian-U.S. Deep Cuts Commission, which was established in 2013 to develop proposals to overcome obstacles to sensible arms control agreements and further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles.

Last week at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Robert Soofer announced that the administration will soon “begin a whole-of-government review of the pros and cons of extending the [New START] treaty.”
 
“Without a positive decision to extend New START, and if the INF Treaty comes to an end, there would be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear superpowers for the first time since 1972, and the risk of unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition would grow,” the statement warns.

“Presidents Trump and Putin … should discuss and pursue—on a priority basis—effective steps to reduce nuclear risks and tensions, and to avoid a renewed nuclear arms race,” they write.

Their recommendations include:

  • Immediate Extension of New START Treaty. This treaty imposes important bounds on the strategic nuclear competition between the two nuclear superpowers. The treaty will by its terms expire February 5, 2021, but can be extended by up to five years by agreement by the two sides. Extending the treaty until February 2026 would preserve its significant security advantages—both the limits and the transparency that is provided by the treaty’s verification measures.
  • Intensified Efforts to Resolve INF Treaty Compliance Questions. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty made a major contribution to European and global security by eliminating all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Unfortunately, the treaty is now at risk, with the United States and Russia exchanging charges of treaty violations, and the U.S. government stating that it will not allow Russia to gain a military advantage through its violation. Currently, no meetings are scheduled to address the issue. A resolution of the dispute requires high-level leadership from the White House and the Kremlin.
  • Maintaining a Regular Dialogue on Strategic Stability. U.S. and Russian officials held a round of strategic stability talks in September 2017 but they postponed a follow-up round that was to be held earlier this year. They should make that dialogue a continuing and regular part of the U.S.-Russian agenda.
  • Sustained Military-to-Military Dialogue on Key Issues. Over the past five years, the instances of U.S. and NATO military aircraft and warships and Russian military aircraft and warships operating in close proximity to one another have increased dramatically. NATO has deployed ground forces to the Baltic states and Poland, putting them in closer proximity to Russian ground forces. U.S. and Russian forces also operate in close proximity in Syria. The risk of accidents and miscalculations that could escalate to a full-fledged armed conflict is growing.

The full statement is available online in English and in Russian.

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Posted: April 17, 2018

New Russian Weapons Raise Arms Race Fears

Putin sends mixed signals, and Trump eyes new talks.


April 2018
By Kingston Reif

Tensions between the United States and Russia took another turn for the worse in March after Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about his country’s development of several next-generation nuclear weapons systems and Moscow announced that it was postponing scheduled talks with Washington on strategic stability.

The disclosure of the new weapons is prompting fresh concerns about the advent of a new arms race and follows the Trump administration’s recent release of a new defense policy focused on the re-emergence of strategic competition with Russia and China and a new Nuclear Posture Review report, which calls for expanded U.S. nuclear capabilities. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers an annual address March 1 to the Russian Federal Assembly at Moscow's Manezh Central Exhibition Hall. (Photo: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)Whether Russia actually deploys all of the weapons touted by Putin remains to be seen, as many of them are still early in development. Putin also may have been blustering about Russian military capability as a way to build nationalist enthusiasm for his presidential re-election campaign amid a stagnant national economy and the absence of any major challenger.

Following his election to a fourth six-year term March 18, Putin declared that he planned to focus on domestic matters and reduce spending on defense. “Nobody plans to accelerate an arms race,” said Putin.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House, following a March 20 phone call with Putin, that “we'll probably be meeting in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

Trump added a caveat: “But we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have.” Factually, however, the United States and Russia have similar numbers of deployed strategic nuclear forces under a limit set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

In his March 1 presidential address to the Russian Federal Assembly, Putin outlined the developmental status of several nuclear weapons systems.

These included the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which is designed to carry multiple warheads; an intercontinental undersea drone; and a nuclear-powered, long-range cruise missile that Putin said “is invincible against all existing and prospective missile defense and counter-air defense systems.”

Putin also outlined Russia’s development of two hypersonic weapons, specifically the Kinzhal air-launched cruise missile and the Avangard glide vehicle. Hypersonic missiles can travel at approximately 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, or 1 to 5 miles per second. They can change their trajectories during flight and fly at odd altitudes. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Putin’s presentation contained animated videos, including one that pitted Russia against the United States. The video of the Sarmat showed the missile releasing nine warheads at what appeared to be the southern half of Florida.

It is unclear if formal development programs exist for all the systems mentioned by Putin and, if so, how close the weapons are to being fielded. Putin said that Russia has begun production of the Avangard, is “in the active phase of testing” the Sarmat, and successfully tested the nuclear-powered cruise missile in late 2017.

Putin described the rationale for the weapons largely in terms of the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and concern about U.S. missile defense systems.

Existing long-range U.S. missile defenses are limited in scope and scale and would not be effective against Russia’s large and sophisticated arsenal of nuclear missiles. Russia, however, has expressed concern that the combination of U.S. nuclear forces and advancing missile defense and conventional strike capabilities could enable Washington to threaten Moscow's secure second-strike nuclear capability.

U.S. Defense Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers an annual address March 1 to the Russian Federal Assembly at Moscow's Manezh Central Exhibition Hall. (Photo: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary Jim Mattis played down Putin’s show. Mattis told reporters on March 10 that Putin’s nuclear weapons statements were “disappointing” and “unsurprising” but the systems he highlighted would “not change at all the strategic balance.”

Former Defense Secretary William Perry similarly said in a March 9 essay in Politico that the new Russian weapons “don’t change the basic deterrent or military capability of Russia.” But he warned that “Putin seems to be welcoming a new nuclear arms race and challenging the U.S. to join in.”

Key pillars of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture, like the bilateral relationship more broadly, are under siege. Although some meaningful arms control cooperation continues, such as adherence to New START and implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is no ongoing dialogue on further nuclear risk-reduction steps.

Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Moscow denies it is violating the agreement and instead has accused Washington of breaching the accord.

Both countries are investing massive sums to replace and upgrade their existing nuclear arsenals. To complicate matters further, technological change and advances in conventional weapons are raising concerns about new escalation dangers. Both sides are developing hypersonic missiles, new missile defense capabilities, offensive cybertools, and anti-satellite and counterspace weapons.

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review report does not offer any proposals to advance U.S.-Russian arms control or address the growing challenges to strategic stability more broadly. It also does not commit to an extension of New START, which is slated to expire in 2021. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

That treaty provides for discussion on emerging strategic offensive arms and possible limitation of them. The United States could put these systems on the table at the next meeting of the treaty's Bilateral Consultative Commission, the treaty’s implementation body, scheduled for this spring.

Putin has failed to outline how Russia believes that Moscow and Washington, along with the world’s other nuclear-armed states, can reduce nuclear competition. In 2013, Russian leaders rejected a U.S. proposal for talks on a further one-third cut in deployed strategic nuclear arsenals below the New START limits.

In a March 1 interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin said Russia is willing to have a dialogue with the United States about extending New START. But he added that given Russia’s acquisition of “weapons that can easily breach all anti-ballistic missile systems, we no longer consider the reduction of ballistic missiles and warheads to be highly critical.”

The United States and Russia held a first round of strategic stability talks last September in Helsinki. The specific agenda was not disclosed. (See ACT, October 2017.) A second round of talks was slated to take place on March 7-8 in Vienna, but Russia announced that it would not participate in the talks, citing the U.S. cancellation of bilateral consultations on cybersecurity that had been scheduled to take place in late February in Geneva.

It is not clear when the two sides will resume the strategic stability talks.

In a March 8 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Edward Markey (Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged the Trump administration to convene a new round of talks as soon as possible and focus them on “[e]xtending New START, resolving Russia’s INF violation, and enhancing transparency measures relating to non-strategic nuclear weapons.”

Despite significant disagreements with Russia, the senators said “the United States should urgently engage with Russia to avoid miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of conflict.”

 

Posted: April 1, 2018

Banned Russian Toxin Used in UK Attack

Assassination attempt indicates Russia has a nerve agent in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.


April 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

An attempted assassination of a former Russian spy with a highly lethal Russian-developed nerve agent calls into question Moscow’s compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and threatens to further undermine the norm against chemical weapons use.

The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States were the first to accuse the Russian government of carrying out the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, UK, on March 4 using the chemical agent Novichok. As a consequence, the United States announced March 26 that it was expelling 60 Russian diplomats, joining more than 20 European countries taking similar actions to punish Moscow.

A police officer in a protective suit and mask works near the scene where former double-agent Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were found after being attacked with a nerve agent on March 16, 2018 in Salisbury, UK. (Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

 

“No country except Russia has the combined capability in chemical warfare, intent to weaponize this agent, and motive to target the principal victim,” UK Prime Minister Theresa May wrote in a March 13 letter to the president of the UN Security Council.

The Russian government has initiated assassinations on UK soil previously, including the targeted killing of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko by a radioactive isotope in London in 2006, which President Vladimir Putin allegedly authorized.

Alexander Shulgin, Russian permanent representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), derided UK accusations as “nothing but fiction and another instance of the dirty information war being waged on Russia,” during a March 13 OPCW Executive Council meeting. Although the UK asserted that Russian responsibility is “highly likely,” most members of the UN Security Council are less confident and, at a March 14 emergency meeting called by the UK, requested that the OPCW conduct an independent investigation.

The UK notified the OPCW Technical Secretariat of the attack on March 8 and OPCW experts subsequently were deployed to the UK to collect samples. The results of the analysis, which will not assign blame, could come by mid-April at the earliest, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said at a briefing at the UN on March 20.

The Soviet Union developed Novichok secretly in the 1970s and 1980s, after which Russia inherited the program. Its existence was publicly revealed only when Soviet scientist Vil Mirzayanov leaked the project to the press in the 1990s. Novichok reportedly is more lethal than known nerve agents sarin and VX.

The March 4 attack would constitute its first known use, although some chemical weapons experts told The New York Times that the agent could have been used in assassinations in the past but not recognized.

Novichok affects victims through skin exposure or inhalation. Like other nerve agents, Novichok exposure inhibits certain neurotransmitters that relay messages to nerves, eventually resulting in muscle spasms, organ failure, and death from suffocation or heart failure.

The OPCW, the implementing body of the CWC, announced that Russia destroyed its entire declared chemical weapons arsenal in September 2017. Russia did not declare Novichok agents as part of its chemical weapons arsenal when it joined the convention. Vassily Nebenzia, Russian permanent representative to the United Nations, at the UN Security Council on March 14 denied that Russia possesses any Novichok agent.

If Russia is confirmed as responsible, it would mean that Russia not only failed to declare its entire arsenal to the OPCW but also that it retained a part of its arsenal after the OPCW verified that it had destroyed it. That would constitute a “major case of non-compliance with the treaty that would need to be remedied in short order to maintain confidence in the efficacy of the treaty and the OPCW,” Gregory Koblentz, director of the Biodefense Graduate Program in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told Arms Control Today in a March 16 email.

In a March 12 address to Parliament, May urged Russia to disclose its Novichok program to the OPCW in order to return to compliance with the CWC. Russia also would need to allow the OPCW to monitor the destruction of any remaining chemical weapons stocks or provide “credible evidence” of chemical weapons and production facilities destruction to the OPCW, Koblentz said.

At a March 14 meeting of the UN Security Council, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, demanded that the body “take immediate, concrete measures” to address Russian noncompliance, although council action may be challenging given Russia’s veto power.

Investigations could be mandated instead through the secretary-general’s mechanism, said Andrew Weber, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, in a March 15 email to Arms Control Today.

The use of Novichok in the UK occurred as the norm against chemical weapons use may be eroding globally due to ongoing use of chemical weapons by Syria, a CWC state-party, and North Korea’s use of VX to assassinate Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia last year.

To prevent norm erosion, chemical weapons users must be held to account, Weber and Koblentz said. Koblentz pointed to the International Partnership Against the Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, launched in Paris in January, as a useful tool for “marshaling international support to punish and prosecute perpetrators” of chemical weapons attacks. Although the initiative was launched largely in response to chemical weapons use in Syria, its work applies to chemical weapons use globally. (See ACT, March 2018.)

“The use of chemical weapons anywhere erodes the norm everywhere,” said Koblentz.

Posted: April 1, 2018

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