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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 52, November 2000

Confusion over Russian Missile Chief' Remarks

On November 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for urgent strategic nuclear arms reductions with the United States, to levels of 1,500 warheads per side or lower, on condition that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty remain as the '' of strategic stability. See Documents & Sources for the text of the President' statement, a detailed Foreign Ministry briefing, and President Clinton' initial, positive but non-committal, response. No direct response was forthcoming from either Vice President Gore or Governor Bush.

On the same day as Putin' statement, General Vladimir Yakovlev, Commander of Russia' Strategic Rocket Forces, reportedly conceded that the US programme to develop a national missile defence (NMD) system was likely to prove unstoppable. The US, Yakovlev argued in comments carried by the Interfax news agency, had already invested "major financial, scientific and technical resources" in developing an NMD system: "That is why it is unlikely that the turning gears of the American defence industry will come to a stop." Yakovlev continued gloomily: "Keeping in mind the firmness of the United States in defending its vital interests on the international scene, one can assume that it would be very difficult to reach a decision about the future of the ABM agreement that is constructive and, what is most important, needed by Russia." In response, the General argued, a new means of gauging the strategic balance might need to be devised, offsetting defensive and offensive systems: "[We may need] to introduce an unchanging general indicator of strategic weapons which would include anti-missile defence systems as well as means of nuclear attack. A country that wishes to increase one of the components will have to cut the other..."

On November 14, an unnamed senior US official responded to Yakovlev' remarks with considerable wariness: "They are certainly at odds with some comments that President Vladimir Putin has made in the past. On balance our inclination would be to give the President' comments more weight than his General' One hears a lot of statements out of Moscow but we have to do some further research to ensure that this is indeed an official position. We have to take this with a pinch of salt... Yakovlev' comments sound like a whole reworking of the ABM Treaty and we haven' seen much from Putin that would suggest that he is to this date eager to redraft the ABM Treaty..."

Briefing reporters on Putin' statement on November 14, Yuri Kapralov, Director of the Foreign Ministry' Department for Security and Disarmament, found himself fielding numerous questions about the implications and authority of General Yakovlev' assertions:

"Question: ' time before President Putin made his statement, Russian media quoted General Yakovlev as saying that Russia was prepared to agree with amendments to the ABM Treaty. Are his remarks part of President Putin' initiative or is this a separate story?'

Kapralov: '[T]his is a totally different story.'

Question: ' this mean that General Yakovlev' remarks express his own point of view, or an official one?'

Kapralov: ' are remarks by General Yakovlev, not the President. If you compare the President' statement with the statement made by General Yakovlev, you will see that they do not always coincide. This is why we strongly advise you to focus on the President' statement.'

Question: ' what you said about General Yakovlev' statement reflect some disagreements between the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry and the General Staff over arms cuts?'

Kapralov: ' are no disagreements. You have the official position. It is expressed in the statement of the President. There are no disagreements in principle because [both] the President' statement and what General Yakovlev said concern radical cuts in strategic offensive weapons. General Yakovlev expressed his view on how this could be done. But there are many other views'"

Notes: on November 3, Atomic Energy Ministry spokesperson Yury Bespalko announced the completion of Russia' latest series of subcritical nuclear tests, conducted at the Novaya Zemyla site in the Arctic.

On November 15, unnamed Russian officials were quoted by Interfax as urging the United States to terminate its testing programme for the Hera ballistic missile, reported to have a range in excess of 1,000 kilometres, and to destroy its entire stocks of the missile. According to the officials, the Russian Government is "seriously concerned by the continuation of the testing of the Hera in the United States in the framework of developing a non-strategic missile defence system... [This testing is regarded] as a direct and significant violation of the Russian-US treaty on the elimination of medium- and short-range missiles [the INF Treaty] signed on December 8, 1987..."

Reports: Nuclear weapons tests, Associated Press, November 4; Russian missile chief pessimistic about future of Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Agence France Presse, November 13; Putin proposes deeper nuclear cuts, Associated Press, November 13; Putin suggests deeper bilateral weapons cuts, Washington Post, November 13; US offers cautious welcome to Putin nuclear proposals, Agence France Presse, November 14; US sceptical on Russian missile chief comments, Reuters, November 14; Press briefing by Yuri Kapralov, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry Department for Security and Disarmament, Federal News Service, November 14; Russian officials deny softer anti-missile stance, Reuters, November 15; Clinton, Putin discuss arms control, alleged spy, Reuters, November 15; Moscow warns it can '' to deployment of US nuclear missile shield, Agence France Presse, November 15; Eyeing US missile defense, Russia wants less offense, New York Times, November 15; Russia urges US to end Hera ballistic missile development, Xinhua, November 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.