Ministers’ speeches

20 October 201713:33

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference, October 20, 2017

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Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to be attending the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference (MNC). I see many familiar faces here in the audience – my diplomat colleagues, other representatives of foreign states, as well as the past and incumbent heads of international organisations who are involved in nonproliferation. Thank you all for attending this event, which we regard as a very important one. We are especially grateful to conference organisers, namely the Centre for Energy and Security Studies together with CENESS Director Anton Khlopkov. The Foreign Ministry has been productively cooperating with CENESS for a long time now and will continue to do so.

Over the period since the first MNS conference, this forum has become an important discussion venue that brings together respected nonproliferation experts, including diplomats, military professionals, researchers, experts, and all those who are deeply concerned with such vital aspects of global security as the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as arms control.

On July 1, 2018, we will mark 50 years since the opening for signature of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the main pillar of the modern system of international security. Regrettably, we must admit that the regime, which was created in keeping with this document and which provided the legal framework for a number of other vital agreements, has entered a difficult period and has been subjected to serious trials.

One of the main explanations for this is that some countries have put in question the universal norms and rules and are seeking to use selfishly the achievements that were made through collective efforts and compromises.

It is regrettable that we are approaching the 2020 NPT Review Conference with unfavourable results. The destructive actions taken by some countries, which violated the consensus decision of the 2015 Review Conference regarding the draft of the final document, have delivered a serious blow to the viability of the NPT. This encouraged a considerable number of states to accelerate their efforts to draft the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (NWBT), which has recently opened for signature.

Russia’s position is well known: We will not join the NWBT. The treaty proponents, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017, appear to be guided by a noble goal of prohibiting nuclear weapons as soon as possible. However, it should be remembered that total denuclearisation is only possible within the framework of universal and total disarmament in conditions of equal and indivisible security for all states, including nuclear countries, as this is stipulated in the NPT. The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, which has opened for signature, does not comply with these principles, disregards the need to take into account all the factors that can influence strategic stability, and hence can have a destabilising effect on the nonproliferation regime. As a result, the world may become even more unstable and unpredictable.

Nor has any agreement been reached on separate elements of the current nonproliferation regime. For example, prospects for the establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles in the Middle East remain unclear. As you may remember, the establishment of this zone was solemnly promised as far back as in 1995 in a resolution on the Middle East passed during a NPT Review Conference. At the last moment, the sides failed to reach consensus on the relevant document during the 2015 NPT Review Conference and missed a real chance to, at long last, start moving towards attaining this goal. We are confident that the lack of practical steps in this direction, including on the part of the United States and the United Kingdom that co-sponsor the conference for a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles in the Middle East together with Russia, will negatively affect the foundations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. For our part, we will continue assisting efforts to establish this zone in the Middle East and will continue to work with all the concerned countries and parties. In our opinion, success can be guaranteed by reaching consensus on specific formats for examining this issue in the broad context of regional security.

The future of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is not yet clear. As principled supporters of this Treaty, we continue our work, so that it would enter into force. We are urging everyone on whom this depends, above of all the well-known eight states, to finally sign and ratify the Treaty. This would make a substantial contribution to strengthening the nonproliferation regime.

Terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction is another common challenge. Consolidated efforts of the entire international community are required to deal with this challenge. It goes without saying that such existing mechanisms as the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 remain in high demand to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of non-state actors. However, common counter-terrorism norms are required to put a stop to terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction. In this connection, we are determined to launch practical efforts at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament to draft an international convention for the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism that was suggested by us back in March 2016. We believe that this initiative that meets the interests of all states without exception can eliminate the protracted stagnation at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament.

We are watching with alarm the insistent attempts to misuse the resources of the International Atomic Energy Agency and to turn it into a tool of political pressure or a system for rechecking intelligence data, to expand its mandate to include functions not linked with the Agency’s official goals and tasks, forcing the Agency to check nuclear disarmament as well as military activities not linked with nuclear materials.

We operate on the premise that the IAEA, acting as a drive belt for the non-proliferation regime, should remain a professional technical mechanism for verifying commitments regarding guarantees and, in addition, play a central role in coordinating international cooperation in the field of physical nuclear security (PNS), which should be voluntary and not lead to disclosure of sensitive information. The states must be responsible for ensuring PNS within their territories, including determining appropriate parameters for national systems and security measures.

For our part, we will work to ensure that the agency's safeguard system remains objective, depoliticised and substantiated, and that it is based on international law and promotes the consolidation of common achievements, such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme. The IAEA, the only agency authorised by the UN Security Council, carries out regular inspections in Iran and confirms its strict compliance with its obligations. We hope that we will be able to jointly preserve and fully uncover the unique potential of this Action Plan. In any case, returning to the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme that existed prior to the adoption of the JCPOA is impossible. There can be no question about restoring the UN Security Council sanctions.

Clearly, the failure of the JCPOA, especially through the fault of one of its most active participants and, in fact, the leader of the P5+1, would be a warning sign for the entire international security architecture, including the prospects for settling the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula (NPKP). Its resolution calls for vigorous diplomatic efforts. The main task at the current stage is to prevent a military conflict, which would inevitably lead to a major humanitarian, economic and environmental disaster. All parties involved should exercise restraint. As a reminder, every UN Security Council resolution that was adopted on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, in addition to sanctions, contains provisions about the need to resume talks. There is no alternative to diplomatic methods for settling the NPKP through dialogue between all interested parties.

We call upon responsible members of the international community to support the ideas laid down in the Russian-Chinese settlement roadmap, the key provisions of which are outlined in the Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of Russia and China of July 4. We are convinced that its implementation will help reduce military activity and tensions on the Korean Peninsula and form an equal and indivisible security system in Northeast Asia.

The systematic attempts by individual countries and military-political alliances to shake up the existing balance in the sphere of arms control are extremely dangerous. The desire to achieve military superiority and to use the factor of force to achieve self-serving geopolitical ends seriously undermines strategic stability. The efforts by the United States and its allies in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and other regions to create a global layered missile defence system and to bring its elements close to the Russian and the Chinese borders remain one of the key problems in this regard.

In fact, our appeals to combine our efforts to manage the risks associated with increased qualitative and quantitative imbalances in conventional arms on the European continent remain unanswered. We are following with concern the implementation of the plans to improve nuclear bombs, including the ones deployed in Europe, improving their accuracy and possible reduction in capacity, and the efforts of NATO countries to replace dual-use aircraft for both conventional and nuclear missions. All of that may result in lowering the threshold for the use of atomic weapons. We consistently advocate the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons to their national territory, the termination of the so-called NATO “joint nuclear missions,” which, in violation of the NPT, involve non-nuclear members of the alliance in planning and honing the skills involved in using nuclear weapons.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) remains in a difficult situation. We have repeatedly affirmed our commitment to implement it. We spoke about our willingness to discuss the concerns of both parties, ours and the Americans’. Unfortunately, Washington persistently continues to make allegations against us, while refusing to specify them. This approach is not helpful in resolving the issues surrounding the Treaty. On the contrary, there is a suspicion that the real purpose of such false statements is to portray Russia as a willful violator of international obligations, while keeping quiet about their own double-dealing practices.

Our specific claims with regard to the United States in connection with the INF Treaty are well known and are certainly clear to professionals. Yesterday, President Putin made a clear statement about Russia’s political approach to this situation at the Valdai Discussion Club forum.

Other factors have a negative impact on strategic stability as well. In view of the absence of a ban on the deployment of weapons in outer space, except, of course, WMD, there is a threat that outer space can become a place for military rivalry. The possibility of such a development should be reliably precluded. The Russian-Chinese draft treaty on the non-deployment of weapons in outer space, as well as our initiative on no first deployment of weapons in outer space, which, in addition to Russia, is supported by another 16 states, are aimed at achieving this goal.


The nonproliferation regime is the collective responsibility of the international community. Russia intends to steadily advance a positive agenda in the interest of ensuring the stability of the entire regime. We are willing to work jointly and systematically with all those who have a stake in its future and are interested in consolidating international peace and security.

Thank you. I am ready for your questions.

Question: You have sent a fairly experienced ambassador to Washington. He has extensive experience in conducting disarmament negotiations with the United States. Have you instructed him to restart the dialogue with the Americans in this sphere?

Sergey Lavrov: Over the past year and a half our dialogue with the Americans has indeed been losing traction. This happened under the Barack Obama administration. At the time, a lot of things ended up in limbo, through no fault of our own, but that’s a separate issue. When the Donald Trump administration came into the White House we signalled our readiness to resume dialogue on all tracks, aware of the situation in which the administration took the reins and what incredible pressure and accusations it was exposed to. Those who placed their bets on the Democratic candidate are still trying to take it out on the Trump administration. Therefore we realised that the Donald Trump administration was in a difficult situation and expressed our readiness to restart dialogue in areas and on a scale that would be acceptable and comfortable for the Donald Trump administration. I spoke about this with the US president when he received me in the Oval Office this past spring. I had discussed this with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a month before my visit to the US. He came to Moscow and was received by President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

As you know, eventually, a channel at the level of deputy heads of foreign policy agencies – Sergey Ryabkov-Thomas Shannon – was set up, which, among other issues in the context of their recent meeting, was used to assess where we are on strategic stability problems. The channel’s main agenda focused on bilateral problems and ways of preventing this spiral of confrontation from becoming irreversible. To reiterate, in September, a special conversation took place on strategic stability issues, primarily compliance with the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (2010) and the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles.

The dialogue is ongoing. I cannot say that this gives cause to hope that concrete, meaningful results will be achieved in the foreseeable future, but at least it has resumed and will continue both via bilateral channels and in the context of New START and INF verification mechanisms.

Question: I believe everyone here agrees with you that the nuclear deal on Iran must be preserved. One related threat has to do with the verification of the so-called Section T. Does it make sense to strengthen the IAEA mandate with regard to verification of Section T?

Sergey Lavrov: It impossible to strengthen what does not exist. The IAEA has no mandate to verify Section T. This reflects the consensus that was reached at the six-party talks with Iran with the participation of the EU and that was unanimously enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution. I act on the premise that changes to any part of this consensus require the consent of all six members plus, of course, Iran. I am convinced – as our European colleagues are – that any attempts to begin this conversation may bury the most important agreement in the sphere of strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation.

Question: At such meetings, people cleverly avoid any mention of problems related to disarmament. Is this the approach taken by the Non-Proliferation Treaty elitists? They do not allow us to achieve these goals.

Sergey Lavrov: What I have heard from you is not so much a question as philosophising. It seems to me that we should be guided by the spirit and letter of the treaty. In this respect, it is of paramount importance to keep moving towards further nuclear arms reduction – the same kind of movement towards nuclear disarmament but in the context of general arms reduction in principle. President Putin spoke about that at length yesterday at a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club.

We cannot ignore the achievements in military theory and industry that have been made since the Non-Proliferation Treaty came into effect. It would be absolutely irresponsible to ignore the existing means of warfare. Those who initiated the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in fact took the path of ignoring the real threats to strategic stability and security that result from the development of new lethal, effective weapons systems. So I do not even know what I can add here. The NPT must be preserved. The establishment of a second, parallel non-proliferation regime must not be allowed to enable those who would like to speculate on this problem to play their games and shrug their shoulders when they say that they will follow the line that takes the existence of these two conflicting documents into account. I believe it is very important to see and avert this danger before it confronts all of us.

Question: Speaking in Washington two weeks ago, Senator Sam Nunn said that efforts at the level of the US and Russian presidential administrations and foreign policy agencies are not enough to make progress on arms control. It is also necessary to work with US Congress, since it is to approve any new agreement in this area. What is your take on this?

Sergey Lavrov: The number of players should be even larger, since not only foreign ministries present their considerations on non-proliferation and strategic stability issues to the presidents but this is done in conjunction with defence ministries and in our case the participation of the Rosatom state corporation and the Federal Security Service is also obligatory: This is an interagency process. No doubt, just how effectively the eventual package of agreements between Russia and the United States will reflect your country’s interests hinges on the response from parliament – how positive it will be. So it is certainly important to work with parliament.

I can see how the Donald Trump administration is trying to work with Congress and how this perfectly natural process is being hindered by those who are using Congress not to uphold US interests but to try to create insurmountable difficulties for Donald Trump himself and his administration. As long as these games continue I doubt that there can be an objective response from Congress to any specific agreements, considering its Russia-phobic frenzy.

Question: Other than organising this kind of conference, what more concrete contribution could Russia make to achieving results at the 2020 NPT Review Conference?

Sergey Lavrov: There was this slogan: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

We already stand accused not only of meddling in the US election. Sweden has also expressed concern that its upcoming elections next year would become a target of Russian hacking attacks. The French and many others also talked to the same effect. We are being accused of blocking the implementation of the Minsk agreements on Ukraine although they make President Poroshenko directly responsible for fulfilling 90 percent of their provisions. There are also allegations to the effect that a Syrian settlement depends on Russia and that so far we have been acting wrong. Thank God, these allegations have died down lately. It is also being said that we are responsible for the North Korean problem, since China is not coping, as Donald Trump said. Now we are hearing reproaches in this context as well.

I do not think that it is appropriate to bring up a question that may suggest that the success of the Review Conference is predicated on Russia. I have referred to our efforts to achieve consensus at the recent conference. Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, is present here and he is sure to tell you more about this later.

Understanding on how to start the negotiating process on creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East was reached at great cost. All components of a compromise solution were in place, including taking into account Israel’s concerns (I will not go into detail). Conference co-founders, who were supposed to work with us on this, in reality put a brake on adopting this major document.

We have no shortage of good will. At present, at the ongoing talks in the context of the review process, we are continuing to promote this initiative, looking for additional solutions that could help overcome the resistance. I hope that when you are in contact with the Americans and the British, you also draw their attention to the need to ensure the success of the review process. If we fail again, 35 years after the decision to call this conference was made, then I believe we will deal a crippling blow to the non-proliferation regime and hand strong trump cards to those who would like to dismantle it.

Question: Russia and the United States have already taken important steps on nuclear disarmament. Do you expect disarmament to continue on a bilateral basis or will this process expand to involve other nuclear powers?

Sergey Lavrov: The current treaty has been implemented. In February 2018, the United States and Russia are due to provide confirmation to this effect. Then we will consider the possibility of extending the treaty, as well as other steps.

I am sure that bilateral dialogue on strategic stability between Russia and the United States will continue, but having said that, it is unlikely that a new, so far hypothetical (potential, eventual) round of talks on reducing the nuclear arsenals would take place only in a bilateral format. The figures that are reflected in the current treaty are already bringing the US and Russian arsenals significantly closer to the parameters that other nuclear countries have achieved.




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