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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 49, August 2000

Russia Moves to Reduce & De-Emphasise Nuclear Weapons

On August 11, Russia's Security Council, headed by President Vladimir Putin, met to discuss military structuring and funding priorities. The four-hour session followed weeks of speculation and wrangling over a plan proposed earlier this year by Anatoli Kvashnin, head of the General Staff, to switch spending from nuclear to conventional arms and in the process eliminate the independent status of the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), commanded by Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev and strongly supported by Defence Minister General Igor Sergeyev. See Disarmament Diplomacy No. 48 for an analysis of the dispute by Dr. Nikolai Sokov, and next issue for further details and comment.

The decisions reached at the Security Council meeting - the overall remit of which was to set a framework for the development of the armed forces until 2015 - seem generally to have favoured the priorities and reforms suggested by Kvashnin. According to an Interfax news agency summary: "Great significance was attached to the development of conventional forces. A decision was made on the redistribution of financial flows…" The Russian media also reported that the President had agreed, barring a US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, to allow the number of warheads in the deployed strategic arsenal to shrink to 1,500, the target figure Russia would still like to see reached through START III negotiations with the United States. Reports claimed that Kvashnin had requested a 1,400 warhead ceiling.

After the meeting, Sergeyev pronounced himself satisfied: "The discussions are over, a decision has been made by the Commander-in-Chief [President Putin]… It is well balanced and based on the economic potential of the country…" Putin himself stressed the gravity of the issue: "Are our armed forces, our whole military component, effective? Unfortunately, they are not… The well-being of our citizens, as well as the state's security, depends on the right solution…"

Speaking to reporters a few hours before the meeting, an unnamed Defence Ministry official claimed that the "Strategic Rocket Forces will be merged with the Air Force and silo-based missiles which become obsolete in 2003 will be scrapped…" The meeting reportedly set a date of 2006 for the downgrading of the SRF from a branch (vid) to a service (rod) of the armed forces, allowing for its absorption into the Air Force. With regard to system obsolescence, Russia currently deploys around 750 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), predominantly in silos or on mobile launchers. Almost all were deployed before the end of the Soviet era.

Also speaking just before the meeting, General Valery Manilov, the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff, noted: "We are not talking about liquidating the Strategic Rocket Forces or denting Russia's nuclear shield, including its land-based component…" On July 28, Manilov had stated: "It is unavoidable, logical, and objectively the case that…the Strategic Rocket Forces must become part of one of the new branches of the armed forces under a three-pronged structure." Speaking on Russian television on August 13, Air Force Commander Anatoli Kornukov, a member of the Council, announced that a branch of the SRF, the Space Missile Defence Forces, would be absorbed into the Air Force by 2002.

Reports: Lower status for Russia rocket force 'unavoidable', Reuters, July 28; Russia to cut nuclear rockets, merge forces - source, Reuters, August 10; Putin wants end to row over military reforms, Reuters, August 11; Putin makes 'balanced decision' on military reform, Reuters, August 11; Putin decides on Russian army shake-up, Reuters, August 11; Putin to cut nuclear spending, Associated Press, August 13; Russia to cut its nuclear stockpile, Washington Post, August 13.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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