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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 28, July 1998

Russia's Security Council Discusses Future Nuclear Posture

On 3 July, Russia's Security Council, chaired by President Yeltsin, met in a special session devoted to, in the words of Presidential spokesperson Sergei Yastrzhembsky, announcing the meeting on 26 June, "a series of questions concerning Russia's long-term policy in the area of nuclear deterrence and developing nuclear forces." The meeting was called in the wake of the decision of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament, the Duma, to delay its decision on ratifying START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) II until the Autumn (see last issue); the agenda, however, was predominantly concerned with Russian nuclear posture in the long-term. In part, the meeting seems to have been designed to allay public concern about the Government's commitment to maintaining strong nuclear forces. In remarks to the Council broadcast on Russian TV, President Yeltsin insisted:

"Nuclear forces are some of the most important factors ensuring the security of our country... The fact that reports appear here and there in the media that we have got weaker on the nuclear front, first of all...are seriously mistaken, and second, they do not help the State..."

Speaking immediately after the meeting, Yastrzhembsky gave the following summary to reporters:

"Major decisions were made on developing strategic nuclear forces, on developing nuclear and space technology, on financing the strategic nuclear forces, cutting arms and developing the nuclear non-proliferation regime...

The President said that Russia's nuclear forces are under full control, reliable, and meet national security needs in their current form...

The President said that Russia sees the START II Treaty as a priority issue... Its ratification will indeed serve the interests both of national security and international security... [He said] we will support and develop our potential of nuclear deterrence. But already today, there is a pressing question of natural aging of the ground, naval and air strategic nuclear forces... Therefore the tasks of nuclear deterrence must be considered as a whole, and in perspective."

The Secretary of the Council, Andrei Kokoshin, gave more details in an interview to the Itar-Tass news agency on 3 July:

"The Security Council considered the state and prospects of the development of the strategic nuclear force... [It] adopted decisions on the economic, scientific, and industrial development of the force and the necessary infrastructure, and fixed the amounts of finances...

[President Yeltsin] stressed the necessity of the Council and the Government paying close attention to problems facing industrial and scientific organisations directly involved in the implementation of missile-space and nuclear programmes...

[T]he decisions adopted by the Council provide for the preservation of the triple composition of the nuclear force, including land, naval, and air facilities, up to the year 2010 and further...." Kokoshin then gave details of the specific systems of each 'leg' of this strategic 'triad':

Land Forces

Russia currently has six types of land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) - these would be replaced by just one, the Topol-M, which would be capable of either mobile or stationary launch. The Topol-M would remain in service until around 2020.

Air Forces

Two types of bomber, the Tu-95MS and the Tu-160, would be modernised and equipped to carry long-range, nuclear-armed cruise missiles: "According to our calculations, these bombers may be in use up to the year 2115 and further..."

Naval Forces

Kokoshin stated: "As for the sea-based component, it will be beefed up. The Council decided to focus on maintaining high combat efficiency of the nuclear submarines of the latest projects. Other measures were outlined as well..." In an interview with the Interfax news agency on 6 July, Naval Chief of Staff Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov stated that, over the next 10-15 years, "our task is to bring the Navy into first place." According to Interfax, Kuroyedov stated that the number of submarines armed with ICBMs - 26 - would remain unchanged; nuclear modernisation would focus on other submarines and missiles, though few details were given.

With regard to arms control, Secretary Kokoshin observed:

"[T]he development of the strategic nuclear force is linked to Russia's international obligations. Therefore, it is essential to ratify the START II Treaty as soon as possible, work on a START III Treaty, and preserve the anti-missile defence [ABM] treaty of 1972. Russia will be trying to achieve considerable cuts in the nuclear stockpile of all countries on the basis of equal rights and equal safety."

With regard to strengthening the non-proliferation regime, Kokoshin stated that Russia "is calling for more joint efforts here together with other members of the G-8 group and the UN Security Council Five Permanent Members."

On the eve of the Council meeting, in an interview published in the Noviye Izvestia newspaper, Colonel-General Vladimir Yakovlev, the Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Missile Forces, repeated his backing for START II ratification: "The level fixed by START II [3,500 warheads each side] is safe, and even a considerably lower level would be safe, for example, 1,500 warheads." Yakovlev pointed out that a slimmer nuclear force would reflect slimmer resources at his disposal - as a result of recent spending cuts, "we cut the personnel of the Strategic Missile Forces Command by 32% to just 0.4% of the total strength of the armed forces."

Yakovlev also pointed for the need to look beyond the bilateral START process, toward a framework for nuclear safety and stability involving all the nuclear powers: "There are a number of problems that should be covered by a comprehensive world strategic nuclear treaty... All the nuclear club States and eventually other countries as well should become parties..."

President Yeltsin first called for the elaboration of a Treaty on Nuclear Security and Strategic Stability in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on 16 September 1994.

Editor's notes: On 6 July, President Clinton announced that he had accepted President Yeltsin's invitation to visit Russia for a summit meeting in early September. According to White House spokesperson J. P. Crowley, the Duma's failure to ratify START II had cast a cloud over summit preparations, but a meeting was still considered important and worthwhile, and would still address arms control issues:

"We have a range of important issues to discuss with the Russian President, from Kosovo to the Russian economic situation... We clearly favoured a meeting following START II ratification by the Duma, no question about that... However, the range of important issues that we have with Russia are such that we believe there's plenty for the two Presidents to discuss, including where we go on arms control once the Duma does ratify START II."

On 23 July, Lev Ryabev, Russia's First Deputy Atomic Energy Minister, told Reuters that Russia would conduct a 'sub-critical' nuclear test at its former underground nuclear test site at Novaya Zemlaya in the Arctic before the end of the year. The US conducted two such tests - which, although they do not involve a nuclear explosion, are considered by many States to contravene the spirit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - in 1997. According to Ryabev:

"This is ordinary work that we carry our periodically and we will continue to do so this year as well… These tests are conducted with strict adherence to international agreements barring nuclear tests which we have signed but not ratified."

Reports: Russia Security Council to mull nuclear security, Reuters, 26 June; Russian strategic forces chief defends START-2, Reuters, 2 July; Yeltsin says Russia nuclear force not weaker, Reuters, 3 July; Russia to be major nuclear power in 3rd millenium, Itar-Tass, 3 July; Yeltsin reiterates support for START-II ratification, Associated Press, 3 July; Yeltsin orders increase in Navy nuclear arsenal, Associated Press, 6 July; Text - Clinton agrees to summit meeting with Yeltsin, United States Information Service, 6 July; Clinton to visit Russia - sets domestic agenda, Reuters, 6 July; Russia plans 'subcritica;' nuclear test this year, Reuters, 23 July.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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