Arms Control Today conducted a written interview in early March with Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States on issues including the current status of U.S.-Russian strategic security talks, the future of New START, talks on intermediate-range missile systems, engaging China in arms control, and President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a summit of the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Antonov was appointed ambassador to the United States in August 2017. For more than three decades, he has served in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its successor, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he has specialized in the control of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Serving as the ministry’s director for security and disarmament, he headed Russia’s delegation to the 2009 negotiations on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). He was appointed deputy minister of defense in 2011 and deputy minister of foreign affairs in 2016.
Arms Control Today: What issues were discussed in the recent U.S.-Russian strategic security talks in Vienna? When do the two sides plan to meet next? Does Russia find this dialogue on issues affecting strategic stability useful and, if so, why?
Amb. Anatoly Antonov: Russia and the United States are the largest nuclear weapons powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council. They bear a special responsibility for preserving world peace and security. That is why it is crucial to maintain the bilateral strategic stability dialogue at any given circumstance, regardless of political situation. It goes without saying that such engagement should be conducted on a regular basis.
While discussing security issues, one must keep in mind that any conversation, no matter how substantial it might be, should focus on achieving tangible results. Reaching agreements on reducing tensions and mutually acceptable arms control solutions could help meet this goal. The primary task is to rebuild confidence in this area, attempt to preserve treaties that are still in effect, [and] mitigate crisis dynamic.
As for the consultations in January, our reaction can be described as “cautious optimism.” On the bright side is the fact that the meeting did take place, even though it exposed serious disagreements between our countries on a number of topics. Without going into detail, I must note that on many occasions we heard our partners talking about a concept of conducting dialogue within the framework of the so-called great power competition. In our view, such a formula could hardly serve as a foundation for building constructive cooperation on security issues between nuclear powers.
Nonetheless, Russian and American negotiators managed to discuss factors that significantly impact strategic stability (even though our partners somehow prefer the term “strategic security”). In our perspective, they include, above all, deployment of global missile defense, implementation of the “prompt strike” concept, threat of placement of weapons in outer space and designation of space as a “war-fighting domain,” quantitative and qualitative imbalances in conventional arms in Europe, development and deployment of low-yield nuclear warheads, and adoption of new doctrines that lead to lowering the threshold of using nuclear weapons.
In our view, another positive outcome of the renewed Russian-U.S. dialogue on strategic stability was the agreement reached in Vienna on conducting expert group discussions on specific topics, which we have to go over and agree on.
ACT: Do you agree or disagree with the idea that there is ample time to decide whether to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)? From Moscow’s view, when must the presidents of the United States and Russia formally agree on extension of New START to ensure completion of the necessary processes before its expiration date? Is it Russia’s view that the treaty can only be extended once, or can it be extended multiple times totaling up to five years if the two parties decide to pursue that approach?
Is it possible for the Duma to provisionally recognize a joint decision by the two presidents to extend the treaty in order to allow a decision on extension closer to the expiration date?
Antonov: As you have correctly noted, Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly spelled out our stance on New START. On December 5, 2019, he declared our country’s readiness to immediately and unconditionally extend the treaty. Later last year, we officially suggested that Russia and the United States should review the entire set of corresponding issues including the term of the treaty’s possible extension (up to five years).
However, we have yet to get a response. Trump administration representatives keep claiming that “there is still time” since the extension of the treaty in their view can be formalized in a matter of days. These statements are made despite our repeated clarifications that New START’s extension is not a “mere technicality,” but a rather extensive process that requires the Russian side to undertake a series of domestic legislative procedures. I would like to reiterate that as past similar review processes show, it may take several months to complete the New START extension.
Therefore, it is surprising that the U.S. Department of State refused to conduct consultations proposed by the Russian side on legal aspects of potential extension of the treaty. In response, we hear mixed comments (for instance, during the briefing of a “senior State Department official” on March 9, 2020) on the nature of interaction between the executive and legislative branches in Russia.
As for your last question, I would rather not contemplate in a conditional tense. I wish to emphasize: Russia stands ready to reach an agreement on New START’s extension even this very day. However, our goodwill is not enough. It requires U.S. consent, which we have not received yet. Should Washington agree, we will immediately begin implementation of the corresponding domestic procedures.
We hope that the United States will finalize its stance on New START in the nearest future since there is not much time left before the treaty expires in February 2021.
ACT: For nearly a year, the United States has insisted that China be involved in trilateral nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia and the United States. Chinese officials have said, however, that given the disparities between their arsenal and those of the United States and Russia, they are not interested in trilateral arms control talks at this time. Russia has said that if the U.S. side can persuade China to participate, then other nuclear-armed states such as France and the United Kingdom should be involved.
In Russia’s view, which nuclear arms issues and which types of weapons should be part of any bilateral or multilateral follow-on negotiation to New START? Would Russia be willing to engage in negotiations designed to limit or reduce stockpiles of nonstrategic nuclear weapons as well as strategic nuclear weapons? When, in Russia’s view, should any such New START follow-on talks begin?
Antonov: I would like to remind you that our stance on this issue dates back to 2010. We have said more than once that, with the signing of New START, any possibilities for further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms on a bilateral basis are virtually exhausted and that further progress in this area will require involvement of other states with military nuclear capabilities. However, we do not understand why some of our U.S. colleagues talk exclusively about China. Let’s also involve NATO members possessing nuclear weapons, Great Britain and France. In fact, that is what the special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation, Ambassador Jeffrey Eberhardt, suggested in his March interview with your journal, when he said, “we have to move beyond bilateral discussions between ourselves and Russia and bring in other countries.”
We are convinced that cooperation with third countries in developing possible new agreements in this area should be strictly consensus based and pose no threats to legitimate security interests of the parties. Beijing has clearly rejected the idea of being involved in the so-called trilateral agreements on nuclear arms control that you have mentioned. We believe that this “obsession” with the trilateral format can become a serious obstacle to the development of the Russian-U.S. strategic dialogue, in particular, in terms of preserving existing treaties and developing possible new bilateral agreements.
There is no doubt that the Russian-U.S. bilateral arms control agenda remains relevant. We are open to discussing within the strategic dialogue the issue of the newest and prospective weapons that do not fall under New START. However, the conversation on this topic should be conducted in a comprehensive manner, which takes into account interests of both sides.
At the same time, the possible extension of New START would give Russia and the United States an opportunity to discuss the prospects of bilateral and multilateral arms control regimes in the environment of strategic predictability.
ACT: Regarding your proposal to convene a heads-of-state meeting among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, what specifically would be discussed at such a meeting, and what specific outcomes does President Putin think could be achieved and how?
Antonov: Currently we have been conducting preliminary discussion on a possible date and venue for the summit.
The goal of the summit, as stated by Russian President Putin, is to begin a substantial conversation on the fundamental principles of cooperation on the international arena in order to resolve the most pressing issues faced by the global community. A meeting of the leaders of the five permanent members of the Security Council is the most appropriate format for such a dialogue to commence.
We proceed from an understanding that the leaders will discuss the crisis situation in global stability and security, including the erosion of the UN-set foundations of the world order, regional conflicts, fight against international terrorism and transnational organized crime, challenges of migration, and destabilizing technologies. We will not be able to leave out disarmament and arms control issues. We hope that the summit will allow us to identify approaches to solving pressing strategic stability issues.
But it can only be achieved within an interested and mutually respectful dialogue that implies consideration of interests of all sides. Later, other countries can and must join these efforts since only collectively we may solve the global problems of humanity. The summit is our proposal to the international community to step away from confrontational thinking and get behind a productive agenda.
ACT: Would Russia’s proposal for talks on a moratorium on deploying intermediate-range missiles also prohibit Russian deployment of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile, which U.S. and NATO officials have charged as an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)-noncompliant system? Which geographic “environments” does the Russian proposal envision becoming nondeployment zones for these prohibited missiles? How would the parties to the agreement monitor and verify compliance or otherwise share information about the locations and numbers of the prohibited systems? Lastly, is Russia open to considering counterproposals to its initial concept, and with which countries does Russia seek to negotiate such a missile moratorium?
Antonov: Russian President Putin’s message to the heads of the leading countries, including the United States and other NATO members, dated September 18, 2019, states that our country made a voluntary commitment not to deploy ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in Europe and other regions so long as the United States refrains from doing so. On many occasions, we have called on other countries to support this initiative in order to prevent a new missile arms race, primarily on the European continent.
We believe that a multilateral moratorium in accordance with the Russian proposal will require additional verification measures, especially considering that launchers capable of firing intermediate-range land-based missiles are already deployed in Romania (Poland soon will follow suit). It was clearly proven during the test of a sea-based Tomahawk cruise missile fired from a ground-based Mk41 launcher conducted on August 18, 2019. Should our U.S. and European partners be interested, Russia is ready to work out corresponding technical aspects of the verification regime.
As for 9M729 missiles, the alleged “proof” amassed by the United States and NATO of our systems violating the INF Treaty (while it was in effect) has never been presented either to us or the international community.
Russia stands ready to discuss the issues of intermediate- and shorter-range ground-based missiles with all concerned countries. Our call to adhere to a moratorium, similar to the one already observed by our country, is addressed above all to Washington and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
ACT: Regarding the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), what are the main action steps on nuclear disarmament, previously agreed in the 2010 review conference outcome document, or perhaps new steps that Russia will encourage the 10th NPT review conference to support? What specific nuclear risk reduction measures is Russia ready to support in the context of the NPT review conference? [Editor: The 2020 NPT Review Conference will not meet as scheduled, see ACT news article, this issue.]
Antonov: Our stance and priorities in nuclear disarmament have been comprehensively described in the Russian working paper submitted to the second preparatory committee for the 10th NPT review conference. It stipulates a consensus-based incremental approach that implies consistent work on creating the right conditions that help the global community to continue down the path toward nuclear disarmament.
In this regard, we consider the forced development of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (now open for signing) as wrongful. It fails to promote nuclear disarmament, undermines the NPT, and creates additional tensions between its participants. We believe that complete elimination of nuclear weapons is only possible within comprehensive and complete disarmament and under conditions of equal and indivisible security for all, including nuclear states, in accordance with the NPT.
A significant contribution to progress in nuclear disarmament would be made by extending New START and adopting a moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles by the United States and its allies. An important role in efforts to limit and reduce nuclear weapons is played by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Unfortunately, since the CTBT was opened for signature 20 years ago, the world has still been awaiting its entry into force.
As for nuclear risks, we are working on a joint statement with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council on the inadmissibility of a nuclear war (the United States has failed to respond to Russia’s proposal to do it in a bilateral format). This could in a way become a reconfirmation of the well-known Gorbachev-Reagan formula, this time in a multilateral format.