ROAR: “Russia is not giving up modernization of nuclear forces”

Moscow will continue to upgrade its strategic nuclear arsenal despite the new arms reduction treaty with the United States, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said.

Moscow’s decision to cut strategic offensive weapons does not mean that “we are giving up the modernization of strategic nuclear forces at this stage,” Lavrov wrote in an article published by Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn (International Life) magazine.

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, Russia’s national security must be strengthened by phasing in modern, more effective and reliable types of strategic offensive weapons,” the minister said.

When Russia was forging the pact, the country was guided by its own “objectives, strategic needs and capabilities,” he said, commenting on the new treaty. The parameters of the new agreement “will guarantee a reliable maintenance of strategic balance, with due account taken in Russia's plans to develop nuclear deterrence means,” he stressed.

Lavrov also made it clear that the further reduction of strategic offensive weapons is impossible without the involvement of all members of the “nuclear club”. He noted that the reduction conducted by Moscow and Washington creates the new situation in the field of nuclear disarmament.

“The reduction of a gap between our countries’ arsenals and other members of the ‘nuclear club’ will inevitably lead to these countries’ nuclear potential being able to stay outside the process of further agreed reductions for a longer period of time,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying. “Movement toward totally eliminating nuclear weapons will only become possible as the result of concerted efforts to create relevant international conditions,” he stressed.

At the same time, Russia insists on forging legally binding agreements to regulate activities in the missile defense sphere, Lavrov said. The strategic arms reduction treaty does not limit the development of missile defense systems, but Moscow reserves the right to withdraw from it if the US missile shield poses a risk to Russia.

Recent polls show that many Russians do not support further nuclear disarmament. The majority of Russians (60%) are against this process, and numbers in favor of this process have dropped significantly since the end of the Soviet era, the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) said.

The survey, conducted among 1600 people in 140 localities across Russia in May, showed that the quarter of respondent’s wanted nuclear weapons to be preserved to demonstrate Russia's political power. At the same time, only 4% said the nuclear stockpile is needed to counter US military potential.

In 1991, 48% of those polled supported nuclear disarmament, and now the figure stands at 19%, VTsIOM said. The drop indicates that “Russians no longer welcome disarmament as the country's defense potential has already decreased significantly since Soviet times,” RIA Novosti quoted the pollster’s analyst Yulia Baskakova as saying. Many people believe further cuts of nuclear stockpiles would pose a threat to Russia's security.

At the same time, the survey also indicated the changes in mentality of people since the end of the Cold War. Many believe that Russia’s interests on the world arena do not always coincide with those of other countries.

A third of the respondents now think that both Russia and the US will benefit from the new arms reduction treaty, 22% said it would be Washington, and only 4% – Russia. At the same time, 27% think the entire world will benefit from the pact.

Many analysts describe the new Russian-US agreement in the sphere of strategic offensive weapons as a step forward in reducing the nuclear threat to the world. At the same time, they note that the two sides will not stop the process of modernization of their nuclear arsenals.

“The treaty does not stipulate the end of the modernization of US strategic offensive forces,” analyst Vladimir Kozin wrote in Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper. Pentagon intends to continue this process in the future, and the US administration has increased funds for “the responsible storage of strategic nuclear warheads,” he noted.

Opponents of the treaty in the US are indicating “the numerical superiority” of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, the analyst said. At the same time, Washington “forgets” about the tactical nuclear weapons of US European allies – Britain and France, he noted.

Washington does not want to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, but “has already decided to modernize its tactical nuclear warheads [stockpiled in Europe],” the analyst said.

Moscow has proposed to start negotiations on these weapons to the US, Kozin said. Washington could “equalize the positions of the two sides,” withdrawing the weapons from Europe, he added.

Such European countries as Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, Netherlands and Norway have insisted on the withdrawal of US tactical weapons, Vzglyad.ru online newspaper said. They stressed that these arsenals do not meet military requirements, and “encourage other countries to develop their nuclear weapons,” it added.

However, after the ratification of the new START treaty, the US plans to start talks with Russia on further disarmament, the paper said. The negotiations may concern the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, it added.

Earlier, some Republicans have proposed to link the talks on tactical weapons with strategic offensive arms, the paper noted.

At the same time, Russia and the US are successfully cooperating in stopping any illegal transporting of nuclear and radioactive materials across their borders. Russia is fulfilling its commitments in the framework of the Second Line of Defense program, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has said.

The NNSA’s program is aimed at preventing the smuggling of nuclear materials around the world and started in the end of the 1990s. It unites all US projects of international cooperation to strengthen nuclear and radioactive security on other countries’ borders. The NNSA has recently announced that Finland has agreed to provide $308,000 for nuclear nonproliferation work in Kyrgyzstan.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT