NATO-Russian Missile Defense Impasse and Future Negotiations on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 120

Russian village of Malokurilskoye in the Kuril Islands (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(Part Two)

The lack of progress on missile defense in recent talks between NATO and Russia, highlighted misperceptions on both sides, and, in the views of Russian commentators, also underestimated shifts in the strategic environment (See “NATO-Russian Discussions Fail on Missile Defense: Implications for Negotiations on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons,” EDM, June 21)

In counterpoint to the conclusion reached by Aleksandr Khramchikhin about the need for greater trust between Russia and the West, a curious article appeared on May 31. Sergei Stillavin, a Russian radio personality and blogger, published an article in the Moscow newspaper Prezident under the title “Did Japan Want a War with Russia?” In the article Stillavin says that on February 21, just weeks before the Tsunami hit Japan, he received a message which said: “I work for a Japanese Company. This week the Japanese Ambassador summoned all the heads of Japanese Companies in Moscow (all of them are well connected with the government) . . . There he informed them that they all should have their bags packed and be ready at any minute to depart for their homeland! ‘The government of our country at this time is considering the possibility of a declaration of war with the objective of the return of the Northern Territories.’” The article then discussed the weakness of Russia’s armed forces, the isolation of its government in world society, which would make it difficult to employ nuclear weapons. The author stated that Japan could gamble in such a context if it assumed Russia would not use “tactical nuclear weapons.”  Failure to use these weapons would open up the prospect of other powers seeking to take additional zones of Russia (Prezident, May 31).

This is a discussion of a war-imminent situation brought on by the usual diplomatic sparring over the Kuril Islands and the announcement on February 9  by President Dmitry Medvedev of some Russian deployments of advanced weapons there with the intent: “to ensure the security of the islands as an integral part of Russia.” The article that appeared in May is, however, an updated version of an article by the same author that originally appeared in February under the title “Japan Is Prepared to Declare War on Russia,” which appeared in the St. Petersburg newspaper Delovaya Zhurnal. That version had no question mark about the probability of war (Delovaya Zhurnal, February 21).

This represents a particularly troubling manifestation of Russian paranoia particularly in the context of the existing US-Japanese Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. It certainly underscores the sense of vulnerability the Russians feel in the Far East, but manifests the same paranoia that Khramchikhin warned against. The subject was given major coverage in February by Anatoliy Baranov citing Stillavin’s evidence (, February 23).  Baranov, however, called attention to statements by the US Embassy in Moscow supporting Japan’s claims, which would be no big surprise since the US has supported Japan in the dispute over the Kuril Islands, but Baranov implied that such statements could be taken as evidence of US support for Japan’s aggressive intentions. This “noise” took place in the middle of the crisis. A follow-on article appeared in early March and mentioned Russia’s deployment of Bastion missile batteries armed with Yakhont anti-ship missiles to the crisis area (, March 2). These articles appeared in the context of the crisis. But Stillavin’s second article was published in late May after the Tsunami had created havoc in Japan and still received major play in Prezident, three months after its “revelations” initially appeared in Delovoi Zhurnal.

Following the failure of the negotiations in Brussels on missile defense, one could have his pick of Russian opinions confirming sanity or paranoia. The announcement by Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov that “fundamental differences” in the NATO and Russian positions had precluded an agreement brought renewed tough talk about an arms race with NATO and practical measures to counter a NATO missile defense system through the deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad Oblast and possibly Belarus. Dmitry Litovkin noted that NATO’s accelerated and expanded deployments of the US-developed system went hand-in-hand with Moscow’s recent announcement of its decision to modernize its strategic missile force. Litovkin left the last point in his article to retired General Vladimir Dvorkin, former Chief of the 4th Directorate of the Ministry of Defense charged with the employment of nuclear weapons: “An expansion of forces is not necessary. What is plainly necessary is a continuation of negotiations. This is the normal practice at the start of the negotiating process when sides take extreme positions in order to have room for maneuver.” Litovkin gave his article a title based on word play in Russian by capitalizing “PRO” the Russian abbreviation for missile defense. The concept may not have materialized, but the negotiations could continue (Izvestiya, June 10).

On June 10, another article appeared addressing the prospects of negotiating an agreement on limiting non-strategic nuclear weapons. Its authors discussed a conference held at the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow on April 26 at which leading Russian experts spoke on the topic of “Problems of Limiting Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons.” Reviewing the presentations by Aleskei Arbatov, Vladimir Dvorkin, Viktor Esin, Anatoliy Diakov, and Sergei Osnobishev, the authors concluded that negotiations to limit non-strategic nuclear weapons were on the agenda of US-Russian relations. The authors took comfort in the sharp decline in the arsenals of such weapons since the Cold War and noted that both sides still had tactical nuclear weapons which were of very marginal utility, pointing to Russian nuclear warheads for missile defense systems and nuclear depth charges and mines on the US side. Noting the asymmetry in the size of the arsenals, the authors anticipated a protracted negotiating process and some serious difficulties if the US took a Euro-Atlantic view of the problem and pushed for Russian redeployments into Siberia –which would certainly raise objections from the Chinese. However, on the whole the article was positive in its assessment of limitations on non-strategic nuclear weapons. But the authors spoke of Russia entering into bilateral negotiations with other nuclear powers, implying something beyond simple US-Russian negotiations and embracing other states possessing non-strategic nuclear weapons. In this context they spoke of such weapons being “Russia’s trump card” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, June 10).

In this wider context no one should lose sight of the implicit connection between the negotiations on missile defense and those on non-strategic nuclear weapons. They are different but related parts of the same problem. If we are to move beyond Cold War postures and assumptions there is a clear need for Moscow to embrace a view of shared security interests even as sovereignty still guides strategic assumptions. Paranoia can only frustrate the conduct of serious negotiations in both areas and fuel an arms race which would not serve Russian, US-NATO interests and increase instability in Eurasia.