Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov’s opening remarks at a briefing at the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency on arms control and strategic stability, February 11, 2021
Today’s subject does not need to be introduced because it is clearly topical.
We will have to deal with a package of major tasks following the extension of the Russian-US New START Treaty. The relevant agreement entered into force on February 3.
However, before dealing with these tasks, I would like to recall that in our opinion, the treaty’s extension was obviously the only acceptable option. Nevertheless, Moscow’s repeated attempts to discuss this issue with Washington during the Trump Presidency were to no avail for a long time because of the US’s reluctance “to rush.” As a result, the sides came under a time pressure that was artificially created and completely unnecessary. At the same time, the US made its potential consent to our proposal contingent on certain unacceptable demands that are basically ultimatums.
The new US administration has adopted a more realistic approach to this issue, which has allowed the sides to quickly reach a mutually acceptable result. This was largely achieved owing to the personal contribution of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joseph Biden who prioritised this issue during their first telephone conversation. Against the backdrop of the rapidly approaching expiration of the treaty, the sides reached an agreement on extending it. It was formalized and carried out very quickly.
I need to emphasise that this achievement is not based on any concession by either side. We are convinced that the joint decision to extend the treaty meets the national interests of both sides in an equal measure.
Due to this step, Russia and the United States will maintain the necessary level of mutual predictability and transparency in strategic offensive arms for the foreseeable future. This alone is extremely important for enhancing international security and strategic stability.
One more positive result of the treaty’s extension is the creation of conditions for breaking the dangerous trend of weakening and discarding the political and diplomatic mechanisms of ensuring international security. In effect, we opened a new window of opportunity for the diplomatic search for promising arms control agreements, the need for which is obvious to everyone.
Needless to say, we do not know yet what positions the Biden administration will adopt on these issues but we welcome statements describing the decision as the beginning of further cooperation in this area. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken quoted President Joseph Biden as saying that the New START Treaty extension is “only the beginning of our efforts to address 21st century security challenges.” We agree with this approach and note Washington’s signals to be open to launching a new stage of bilateral strategic dialogue.
That said, we are fully resolved to address problematic strategic issues. We are willing to start working on this without delay, as soon as Washington is ready. We have everything the sides need for resuming the strategic bilateral dialogue: political will, well thought-out approaches, and an established interdepartmental team. We assume that the tried-and-tested format of interdepartmental delegations headed by deputy foreign ministers will be the main working channel for this work unless the US makes other proposals.
The new US administration knows our positions on the strategic agenda in a dialogue with them. They are focusing on a search for ways of creating a new “strategic equation” between our countries. This “security equation” should take into account all factors significant for strategic stability in a comprehensive manner. It is not limited to nuclear weapons. We consider it very important to embrace the entire spectrum of both nuclear and non-nuclear offensive and defensive arms that are capable of resolving strategic tasks. I would like to draw your attention to these words that reflect the essence of the Russian position.
When we talk about strategic defensive systems, we are referring to missile defence weapons. We do not intend to give up the principle of an inseparable link between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms, which is fixed in the valid New Start Treaty. This is why a proper account of the ABM variable has no alternative for us.
As for offensive arms, we need to look carefully at the attack systems that could be used in a first counterforce strike at the territory of the other side with a view to neutralising or weakening its deterrence potential. Relevant technology is being developed quickly, and today strategic objectives can be partly achieved with conventional precision weapons. That said, we consider it justified to maintain a focus on delivery vehicles and their carriers, including missile launchers. As for warheads, we suggest, as before, concentrating on the deployed warheads that pose the biggest operational threat.
In addition, it is important to focus on working out common approaches to ensuring security in outer space exploration and preventing an arms race in space.
Understandably, potential future agreements will require the development of adequate verification measures. We believe these cannot be universal or limitless. They must correspond precisely to the subject and scale of specific agreements.
We believe it is necessary to create additional mechanisms for responding to crises fraught with the threat of a direct armed confrontation or the use of nuclear weapons.
Obviously, it would be very difficult to include all these elements in a single treaty. We do not insist on this. Through mutual consent, the sides could adopt a package of interlinked agreements that could have a different status, if necessary.
I would like to emphasise separately the issue of land-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles. We are convinced that the post-INF problems require priority attention and discussion as part of the Russian-US strategic dialogue. Russia has proposed a number of initiatives aimed at maintaining predictability and restraint in an INF-free world, including verification measures. Naturally, all of them remain valid and we are prepared to discuss these issues with our colleagues, but only based on the principles of equality and mutual consideration for each other’s interests and concerns.
We firmly believe that following these principles remains key to successful cooperation in promoting international security and stability. Arms control is one of the main areas in this cooperation. It makes it possible to enhance national security through peaceful political and diplomatic means, which is the least expensive approach since it does not involve big expenses. Importantly, arms control is not an end in itself because the importance of national security interests and considerations remains decisive.
Like any other country, Russia has its lawful interests and concerns. Our colleagues in Washington and in other capitals should understand this and take this into account. This is not a one-way street, and no concessions can be made under pressure or without reciprocity. Only an equitable dialogue can lead to balanced and mutually acceptable agreements.
If a balance of interests is found, agreements will ensue. If we do not find a balance of interests and again face only a destructive approach to the above range of issues, there will be no agreement. Our colleagues in Washington and other NATO capitals must be clear on this. The time of Russia making unilateral concessions is long past. The world is too tough and too cynical to believe in fairytales. We don’t believe in them and will persistently uphold our own national interests.
We believe that if the other side displays realism and an understanding of what is possible and what is not, we will be able to start overcoming the deep crisis in arms control through concerted efforts. This has been in crisis mode in the past few years largely due to the US. Washington must give up its attempts to build “peace with reliance on force,” and impose a dangerous and destabilising concept of a great power rivalry on the international community. This concept implies by definition an unlimited race for military supremacy. This is a road to nowhere which is fraught with very serious and possibly even disastrous consequences.
By offering our expanded and largely new strategic agenda to the United States, we invite our colleagues to analyse jointly the existing challenges in this area and look for ways of overcoming or at least minimising them, so that in the future, given enough political will from both sides, we would be able to move on to substantive and result-oriented work to outline the parameters and give substance to possible new arms control agreements.
Extending the New START Treaty gives us the necessary time for this, but it is still not very long. It is important to make the most of it. This is exactly what Russia will do.