Russian Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin created an uproar yesterday when he stated that Russia should not hesitate to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. (Rossiiskaya gazeta, February 11) Presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that RybkinÕs remark "does not reflect the Russian FederationÕs official line," and the statement was also ridiculed by some members of the State Duma as indicative of Rybkin’s "irresponsibility and incompetence." (Interfax, February 11)
Although the Soviet Union had a declaratory policy that it would never be the first in a conflict to use nuclear weapons, Russia did not follow suit when it developed its first military doctrine, a document that has been criticized but not yet replaced. Approved by President Yeltsin in November 1993, the doctrine states that Russia might use nuclear weapons even against a state not possessing them should that state join in or support an attack against Russia. The doctrine did note that Òany use of nuclear weapons in a war by even one side may provoke the massive use of nuclear weapons and have catastrophic consequences.Ó (Rossiiskaya gazeta, November 18, 1993)
The 1993 doctrine was recognized as a transitional one, but subsequently there have been a number of indications that nuclear weapons are indeed becoming more important in Russian security planning. The Defense Council under Yuri Baturin has been working on a new military doctrine, and the draft that it was considering last December was said to have contained a provision that provided for the first use of nuclear weapons should Russia face an overwhelming conventional attack. The concept was fleshed out when the council published its military reform plan in January. This document stated that in the case of Òa threat of [conventional] aggression developing from the regional conflict phase into a large-scale war, Russia shall be able to be the first to employ nuclear weapons to deliver a pre-emptive strike at military targets.Ó (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 22) Thus, despite the protests from the Kremlin and the Duma, Rybkin was not breaking any new ground yesterday.
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