Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Mikhail Ulyanov’s interview with the Interfax news agency, December 19, 2017
Question: Mr Ulyanov, is dialogue on strategic stability going on with the current US administration given the freeze in many areas of cooperation? Is Washington a difficult and unpredictable partner for us in this area or is everything not so gloomy?
Mikhail Ulyanov: The Obama administration stopped full-fledged contacts on the entire range of strategic issues in 2014. These contacts have not been resumed but at the same time it would be wrong to say that there is no dialogue on issues of strategic stability. These issues are regularly discussed during bilateral contacts at different levels. In addition, agreement was reached with Donald Trump administration to hold an interdepartmental meeting on strategic stability, which took place in Helsinki on September 12. It was attended by a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and an American Under-Secretary of State. The meeting was useful since the participants focused on the most problematic issues to ensure better understanding of each other’s approaches and concerns.
To conduct further practical discussions, it is necessary for the US administration to complete its reviews of nuclear policy and missile defence. It is expected to do this fairly soon. But even regardless of this, contacts on strategic stability issues, including the situation with arms control treaties, will be continued.
As for the United States as a partner, it has never been easy. At the same time, Russia and, hopefully, the United States will realise the burden of special responsibility before the entire world as its largest nuclear powers. So, no matter what assessments we make of each other, and what difficulties we may face in our cooperation, it is important to continue thinking together how to move forward and reduce threats to international security through joint efforts.
Question: US President Donald Trump stated his intention to review his country’s nuclear forces and build up its nuclear capability. At the same time we are being urged to develop a treaty on further reductions of strategic nuclear weapons. Do we understand the US strategy in this sphere?
Mikhail Ulyanov: Donald Trump did not or does not simply intend to conduct a nuclear posture review. On his orders, the US administration has been conducting this review since the beginning of the year. It is expected to be completed in early 2018. In addition, a new US national security strategy could be adopted within the same timeframe. Then we could talk about US plans.
In any event, any new developments in this area can hardly be expected. Evidently, the US strategic arsenal modernisation programme will continue as formulated under Barack Obama. The Pentagon is focused on completely overhauling the nuclear triad, including the development of a new strategic bomber and the replacement of missile carrying submarines and ICBMs. A new air-launched long-range cruise missile with a nuclear warhead will be developed. Plans call for modernising nuclear weapons command and control systems and other infrastructure. Spending for this purpose could top $1 trillion over 30 years.
Sometimes it is argued that the United States is replacing nuclear weapons that have effectively gone beyond their service life and that there is nothing unusual about this. However, this argument goes only so far. We are seeing a number of systems undergoing deep modernisation. Take, for instance, the B61 bomb modernisation programme: under this programme, the bomb will have a lower or variable yield but higher accuracy. Nuclear systems with such specifications are ceasing to be “political weapons” and turning into “battlefield weapons.” Since the United States is deploying B61 bombs on its NATO allies’ territory, eventually nuclear weapons will appear in the European theatre. Against this backdrop, the Pentagon is saying that NATO nuclear tactics are also being upgraded. Meanwhile, NATO’s so-called joint nuclear missions are ongoing, in the framework of which non-nuclear members participate in planning the use of US non-strategic nuclear weapons and are involved in training exercises to handle these weapons, which is a direct violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. We cannot possibly ignore such approaches in planning our national security activities.
As for developing a treaty on further reductions of strategic nuclear weapons, we have not received such proposals from any party. At some point, the Obama administration suggested considering the possibility of cutting nuclear weapons by a third of the 2010 START levels. However, this idea has not been on the political agenda for several years now.
Question: Does Russia consider it crucial to extend the START Treaty after it expires in 2021? If the treaty is not prolonged and if the new bilateral agreement that we oppose is not adopted, how big would the risk be that we could end up without any strategic offensive weapons monitoring and verification systems and would have to act blindly?
Mikhail Ulyanov: The START Treaty, which runs through 2021, provides for a five-year extension. We are willing to considering this option – at least to discuss it with the Americans. At the same time, before this conversation begins, it is important to know that Washington allows for the possibility of such extension. In other words, we need a partner prepared for this kind of conversation. Right now, this is not what we are seeing. Although there is still time, because the Treaty will remain in force for more than three years.
In this context, it is wrong to say that we are opposed to developing a new bilateral agreement. Our position is that the steps to reduce and limit nuclear weapons that Russia and the United States are jointly taking have come to a point where all nuclear-capable countries should also join these efforts. This applies primarily to the UK and France as the US’s NATO military allies. Incidentally, the START Treaty contains a provision regarding the need for all nuclear powers to join Russia-US efforts. As such, it is important to provide international conditions whereby nuclear arms reductions and limitations would harmoniously strengthen international stability, peace and security of all states without exception. We are ready for a conversation, including with the United States, on creating such conditions based on equal partnership and consideration for the interests of all parties involved.
Question: Is there a risk that New START parameters will not be met by February 5?
Mikhail Ulyanov: Indeed, before February 5, 2018, we should reach New START targets on delivery systems and warheads. Russia faithfully complies with the treaty and will meet its commitment on arms ceilings. We are absolutely confident about this.
Question: Are US strategic non-nuclear weapons and their redeployment potential an impediment to the full implementation of the START Treaty? Can this issue be resolved under the current agreement and its verification system?
Mikhail Ulyanov: As far as we know, the United States has not yet developed strategic nuclear ICBMs or SLBMs. In any case, the START Treaty makes no distinction between ballistic nuclear and conventional missiles: All of them fall under the provisions of the treaty as strategic offensive weapons. What’s more, the START Treaty directly provides for the possibility of converting strategic heavy bombers into nonnuclear bombers, after which they are excluded from the count.
Regarding redeployment potential, the Treaty does not rule it out. For instance, the aggregate number of strategic systems counted under the Treaty includes a parameter such as 800 systems for deployed and non-deployed launchers and heavy bombers. As for warheads, if they are not on deployed delivery systems, they are not taken into account under the New START Treaty.
Question: What is the actual significance of the INF Treaty? Should it be viewed from a technical standpoint, i.e. as a tool for mitigating security threats Russia is facing, or rather as a link in a chain without which the whole arms control system would fall to pieces, producing a domino effect for other agreements?
Mikhail Ulyanov: Just a few days ago we marked the 30th anniversary of the INF Treaty. Over these years many different opinions on the treaty have been voiced. We believe that the INF Treaty has clearly played a significant role in strengthening European and global security and stability. By signing and implementing this instrument we made a major step towards disarmament by eliminating two types of nuclear-missile weapons. For us, the INF Treaty remains the cornerstone in the reduction of nuclear weapons and one of the key elements in the international arms control regime.
These are challenging times for the treaty. The US accuses Russia of violating this instrument, but these accusations are not supported by evidence, which makes a detailed review of these grievances impossible. If there are any grounded claims against Russia, they should be clearly articulated and backed by corresponding facts. This has not been the case so far. The US recently pointed to a Russian missile (known as the 9М729) that allegedly violates the INF Treaty. However, the Americans have yet to explain what makes them believe that the missile’s range exceeds 500 kilometres. There is no doubt that they came up with these allegations for a simple reason that no such data exists, since the specifications of the 9М729 missile are fully compliant with the treaty.
At the same time, more and more calls to impose additional sanctions on Russia for these alleged violations can be heard in the US. An approach of this kind does nothing to resolve treaty-related issues. One can even suspect that the main goal pursued by the US in making these fake allegations is to portray Russia as a recurrent violator of its international commitments, while turning a blind eye to its own shortcomings.
For instance, we have serious objections regarding the use by the Pentagon of target missiles during tests of missile defence systems, since these target missiles are very similar in terms of their specifications to intermediate-range missiles. We have also voiced misgivings over the use of combat UAVs, which fall within the treaty’s definition of a ground-based cruise missile. The deployment in Eastern Europe of universal launchers as part of Aegis Ashore anti-missile complexes is also an obvious violation of the INF Treaty, since this system can launch both interceptor and attack missiles. While the deployment of sea-based launchers of this kind is not banned under the treaty, having them on land runs counter to its provisions.
Russia has reaffirmed its adherence to the treaty on numerous occasions. We remain committed to preserving it, but without any free-wheeling on behalf of the US. We are ready to discuss in a constructive manner all the issues that have to be addressed bilaterally and be free from excessive politicisation.
Question: If the US launches the development of a new ground-based cruise missile with the funds allocated by Congress, will this be a signal of Washington’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, which would in turn require Russia to respond in kind?
Mikhail Ulyanov: On December 12, Donald Trump signed the so-called National Defence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 that features funding for the development of a ground-based conventional cruise missile on a mobile platform with a range banned under the INF Treaty. The US claimed that the treaty does not ban research and development, which is true. In fact, the US went as far as to say that it was forced to take this initiative as part of a package of measures designed to help Russia return into the treaty’s fold and put an end to its noncompliance.
It is obvious that this is pure fantasy coupled with far-fetched accusations against Russia of violating the INF Treaty. All this is aimed at discrediting Russia, artificially whipping up tension and stepping up pressure on our country as part of the all-round strategy of containment.
For us, the persisting refusal to present any evidence to back the claims against us confirms that what the US is actually after has little to do with keeping the INF Treaty alive or could be even headed in the opposite direction. Moreover, the escalation of the propaganda campaign could be a sign that Washington has decided to withdraw from the treaty (just as the US did with the ABM Treaty). When they do not have a credible pretext, they try to fabricate one.
On this matter it is hard to add anything to what President Vladimir Putin said at the October meeting of the Valdai Club: “If our American partners wish to withdraw from the treaty, our response would be immediate and reciprocal.”
Question: The opening of the US base in Poland in 2018 will complete the third and last phase of the deployment of a US ballistic missile defence system in Europe. Will Russia view this as a tactical or a strategic system? Its military and technical response will depend on the answer to this question. Will the US BMD system impair Poland’s security, just like it did in Romania?
Mikhail Ulyanov: The unilateral and unrestrained deployment of the US global BMD system is one of the biggest problems in the sphere of strategic stability. The US missile defence architecture in its entirety, including the European segment, will change the balance in the sphere of offensive weapons dramatically. Another danger is that this BMD umbrella can fuel the belief in one’s invulnerability and impunity and hence provoke unilateral steps to settle global as well as regional problems. Also, this can lower the nuclear threshold.
Compliance with the coordinated BMD parameters helped maintain stability for a long time. The United States withdrew from the landmark ABM Treaty, which is the cornerstone of the international security system, saying that their action is not directed against Russia. Strategically, it is not intentions but military capabilities that matter here. The Russian leadership stated in this context that we will have to respond by improving our offensive weapons, primarily their ability to evade air defence systems. The Russian military are analysing possible ways to protect national security, focusing on the deployed capabilities and the possibility of improving them.
As for the latest deployment of BMD systems in Romania and Poland, I strongly doubt that this will strengthen their security. If anything, it won’t.
Question: The United States plans to deploy Aegis radar stations in Japan. Do they pose a danger to us? Moreover, Japan plans to buy these systems, which means that they will stay put in Japan. Actually this will create a permanent source of threat to our security. As a result, the combination of threats in northeast Asia will become comparable to the threats coming from the West. Should Russia pay more attention to this situation and take specific response measures?
Mikhail Ulyanov: Japan is playing a key role in the implementation of the dangerous and destabilising US global BMD plans. Due to technology exchange together with regular joint ballistic missile defence activities (including exercises), as well as efforts to align the Japanese and the US air defence command systems, an increased level of interoperability of the two countries’ air defence systems has been achieved. The US and Japan are developing an improved Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor. Tokyo has approved the deployment of two AN/TPY-2 forward-based radars in Japan. A decision to deploy two US Aegis Ashore land-based systems in Japan would be in line with this dangerous policy.
In addition to constituting yet another step towards creating a full-scale Asian-Pacific segment of the UN global BMD system, this will also amount to a major change in Japan’s military capability, because Aegis Ashore includes vertical launch systems capable of launching offensive weapons, including Tomahawk cruise missiles. Of course, we will have to take this factor into account and may need to take measures to protect our national security. We have openly pointed this out to our Japanese partners, in addition to telling them that the deployment of the Aegis Ashore systems in Japan would constitute yet another US violation of the INF Treaty, this time with Japan’s assistance.