1 Aug 2019

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov: Every option will be on the table as regards deployment of U.S. missiles

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty on that is expected on August 2, about Russia‘s response to the U.S. and NATO possible deployment of missiles banned by the treaty, and about whether the Cuban Missile Crisis may repeat itself.

Question: Mr. Ryabkov, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that the United States will officially quit the INF Treaty. Have Washington officially notified us of this?

Answer: No, they told us that the procedure is activated in line with the treaty, and its provides for a six-month term from the moment it is launched to the moment it is completed, they notified us officially by a note. So, we counted a six-month period after we received the note and came to the conclusion that the U.S. would withdraw from the treaty exactly on August 2, and we said that many times.

Q.: And will we also quit from the treaty on August 2?

A.: No, we are not quitting anything. On July 3, the president signed a law suspending our implementation of the treaty, consistent with the symmetrical measures declared earlier. As soon as a side leaves the treaty, its validity automatically comes to a stop, and no further actions are required on our part. The treaty will cease to exist, it will be gone.
It is clear to everyone, even to the Department of State that keeps spreading misinformation, propaganda, and myths by publishing updates on the subject and by rigging and misinterpreting the situation, even under these circumstances the Department of State has admitted that it is the United States that is withdrawing from the treaty.

Q.: And will you have consultations with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson?

A.: We‘ve just had a similar meeting. It was quite substantive, lengthy, and held in the interagency format. It took place on July 17. So, I think no such contacts will be planned for in the coming weeks.

Q.: Are there plans to hold a contact between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo?

A.: There are no such plans at present.

Q.: So, the U.S. will officially quit the INF Treaty on August 2, and what‘s next? Does Moscow have a clear understanding in this regard?

A.: As regards our policy in this context, it is extremely clear: in response to American steps to complete the creation of new missile systems of the intermediary range and the flight tests of such systems expected in the U.S. this fall, we have begun our own scientific-research and experimental-design work on systems which, we reckon, could be created within a relatively short time. Everything is relative: this is not a matter of several months, absolutely not, it is a much longer process

Q.: Does it mean the development or creation?

A.: First scientific-research and experimental-design work, then there will obviously be the stage of flight trials, then production is likely to be launched. I would like to stress that the core element of our position is what the Russian president voiced on February 2 regarding our non-deployment of such systems, if we have them, until the U.S. deploys its such systems anywhere at all.
So we in fact imposed a unilateral moratorium on the deployment of systems of this class and this range until the U.S. deploys such systems.
Regretfully, we do not see that our American colleagues, just as NATO in general, want to impose a reciprocal moratorium. On contrary, we hear the NATO side saying that the principal decision, as they say, on the proportionate response to protect NATO interests has been made. And events at various levels in NATO that are to take place before the end of the year are likely to fill this basic decision with details.
Of course, we have also taken note of NATO officials‘ remarks regarding the absence of plans to deploy such nuclear missiles, but the question that still remains open is the following: is NATO going to deploy conventional weapons of this type or not? If the answer is yes, but I wouldn‘t like to act as some sort of forecaster here, but, nonetheless, it, such a hypothetical deployment, would become an increasingly destabilizing step, because, as specialists already know, launches of such delivery vehicles don‘t allow early warning systems to establish what kind of missile has been launched - conventional or nuclear.
Since the military is always guided by the worst-case scenario, a conclusion will naturally be drawn that a launch, a hypothetical launch of a nuclear missile is underway with all ensuing consequences from the point of view of making these or those decisions. It is the core logic of mutual deterrence. It is the very basics of military planning.
Regretfully, all we read in American doctrinal documents - both in open-access documents and documents that are first published in open sources and are subsequently removed from them - indicates that the U.S. has embarked on a course toward eroding the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and toward consciously making this matter somewhat ambiguous and unclear, consequently prompting a natural assumption, which is becoming an ever-definite conclusion for us, that the U.S. is getting ready to return to the military planning logic that is 50-60 years old, when nuclear weapons were regarded as an acceptable means in the battlefield. In other words, a limited nuclear war concept is starting to be instilled in American military planning. It is an extremely dangerous and destabilizing turn amid the general worsening of the arms control situation, and it is a matter of growing concern in light of the upcoming demise of the INF Treaty.
That‘s why NATO‘s assurances again along the lines that we will demonstrate caution and discretion and don‘t have any such plans are all just talk, as it is commonly said, for the benefit of the poor. This means completely nothing to us. As we have said on multiple occasions, NATO may have one plan today and a totally different one tomorrow or the day after. You should ask NATO why its plans change. Our stance is ignored and neglected. Not just neglected but also doctored in an unscrupulous way, non-existent intentions are ascribed to us, and a proper dialogue on problem areas is rejected. Considering the complicated situation and the toxic environment surrounding issues that require a much deeper and intensive discussion, first understanding and then consideration, we will not accept these NATO messages as facts. Quite the opposite, they assure us of nothing and prompt us to take care of our own security.

Q.: You were speaking about the moratorium about the deployment of missiles banned by the INF Treaty...

A.: We suspended the treaty on July 3. Strictly speaking, we have not been bound by the obligations under this treaty since July 3, and there simply will be no treaty after August 2. No one is bound by anything, and strictly speaking one can act guided by other consideration and other priorities in this sphere. Our unilateral moratorium was announced on February 2, it is not limited in time until the U.S. makes something of the kind.

Q.: Is the option of possible mutual, may be legally binding, guarantees of the non-deployment of missiles banned by the INF Treaty under consideration?

A.: No. What legal guarantees can we offer anyone as an idea if the most obvious step in this situation, with a reciprocal moratorium, is rejected? We have said and we continue to say that we are not more interested in a system of agreements in this sphere than our opponents, not more than our colleagues in NATO, in particular, the U.S.

Q.: And does the moratorium mean both NATO and the U.S.?

Q.: It covers all countries.
I don‘t know the nature and format of possible decisions on the deployment of specific systems that are now being created. Whether it will be an all-NATO decision, whether it will be a decision that will close on some bilateral agreements between the U.S. and the countries on the territories of which such systems could hypothetically appear. These are all abstract things; it‘s not a matter for our speculation. If someone is interested in that they need to ask NATO about it.
Not having an idea of that, but clearly registering that NATO is not ready to take any political steps to restrict its own freedom of actions in this sphere, accordingly, we do not believe it is right or possible to further specify our approach and offer some political-diplomatic or legal things.

Q.: So, we will not offer any guarantees, won‘t we?

A.: To whom? About what?

Q.: Mutual.

A.: I don‘t think that would be right. Because it gives the wrong idea that Russia in this situation has a need for something extra in a greater measure than it actually does.

Q.: You‘ve said that the dismantlement of the INF Treaty is fraught with a crisis that may be similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis. What did you mean? Does this mean that if U.S. ground-based nuclear missiles that are banned by the treaty are deployment in Europe, we may consider an option of a symmetric response and the deployment of similar missiles closer to the U.S., with the same flight time?

A.: Yes, every option will be on the table. Of course, flight time is the key issue.
Flight time of cruise missiles and the degree of vulnerability to air defense systems absolutely differ from those of ballistic missiles. Ballistic missiles have a much shorter flight time to the target than cruise ones. Therefore, without anticipating any new circumstances, which God forbid should happen, I can say that this scenario, which is as of yet strictly hypothetical and abstract and which suggests a flight time to our territory counted in minutes or even tens of minutes, which is still an extremely limited flight time, this scenario will force us to take measures, and I‘d rather not dwell on their nature, considering that they remain strictly abstract and hypothetical, to create a similar level of threat to our potential adversaries.
This leads to a natural comparison with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Please note that this comparison is literary, not geographical. There is no connection to any particular coordinates on the globe.
We have a moratorium on deploying such systems declared by Vladimir Putin, and this moratorium signals our responsible attitude to international security. Full responsibility will rest with those who are eroding it and may eventually tear it down. Regretfully, this carefree approach to highly significant issuers has been increasingly exhibited by the policy of the United States and its NATO allies. I still hope that the harsh reality of the day after tomorrow [August 2] will bring these people, who seem to be frittering away European and global security, to their senses

Q.: Will U.S. missile defense bases in Romania and Poland, as well as bases that store U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in five European countries, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Turkey, be targeted by our missiles after the dismantlement of the INF Treaty?

A.: As for specifics of military planning and allocation of targets, the issue is not subject to public debate by definition. We believe that the facility in Romania, just like the unfinished site in Poland, is technically designed to launch both interceptor missiles and attack cruise missiles, i.e. cruise missiles aimed at ground targets. So, this element is taken into account in our planning
No doubt, depots storing particular kinds of ammunition are another issue considered by planners. We understand the other side is acting likewise in our case, applicably to our, Russian, facilities.
The only way to fix problems in this area is to come to terms, to agree on preserving arms control, on taking measures to reduce the risk of escalation, primarily on preventing dangerous incidents, and on a number of other issues overlooked and neglected by our U.S. colleagues.
They are still searching for pretexts to quit various sorts of international agreements as fast as they can. They have de facto rescinded their signature under the international arms trade treaty a short time ago. Now we hear that the New START Treaty was erroneously composed from the beginning and should not be extended for that reason. All those statements are made for the record. I mean this is a combination of steps demonstrating a certain attitude. Поэтому и в военном планировании нашем тоже подобного рода умонастроения будут учитываться.

Q.: As to the New START Treaty, is there an understanding when the point of no return after which we may just fail to agree on its prolongation is reached? And will there remain any international nuclear and missile control regimes?

A.: There will be no practical agreements regarding reductions and limitation of missiles and nuclear weapons left between Russia and the United States unless we find a solution to the problem of the New START Treaty. There will remain agreements on mutual notification of missile launches and other significant but not that far reaching agreements that are not limited in time and originated in the second half of 20th century, in 1970s-1980s to be more precise. They are significant, many of them work well, some of them, such as the 1972 Russian-U.S. Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas – however, it does not cover the nuclear missile sphere, but it is very important and of stabilizing nature – requires updating given that military thought and technologies have gone far away. We are addressing that, stridently but we are moving forward. I hope that we will reach an agreement on how to upd ate the document in a foreseeable future.
But there will be no, strictly speaking, classical agreements on the limitation and reduction of nuclear and missile arms after this. Speaking of timeframes and deadlines, this is not so much the question of procedures and management - how many weeks or months we need to complete domestic procedures if we agree to extend the deal with the U.S. - as the question of meaning. We have not solved the problem of artificial exclusion of a substantial part of U.S. strategic delivery vehicles from total numbers. We are prioritizing the issue. U.S. representatives have publicly pointed to flaws of the New START Treaty in the context of the United States‘ viewpoint but they are ignoring the obvious: if the treaty was composed that way, the main task is to fix problems arising from its implementation and existence the way it was composed, signed, and ratified.
We can give any response we want to U.S. colleagues. For instance, we can say that the New START Treaty‘s preamble declares the unbreakable bond between strategic offensive and defensive weapons. However, it would not be quite right for us to say that the New START contains mistakes and flaws because it has no provisions limiting U.S. missile defense. A logical answer to such a statement would be: why did you sign the document in that case? So, we tell the Americans that, instead of referring to flaws, they should get down to business and focus on the problem they have created by violating the treaty and artificially excluding this many of their delivery vehicles from total numbers.

Q.: What is Moscow‘s attitude to U.S. proposals to engage China into the talks on the New START Treaty and extending the treaty to tactical nuclear weapons?

A.: Concerning the China factor, the U.S. arguments suggesting expectations of progress are not quite clear. We see no signs of China‘s readiness to participate in these efforts. We are carefully recording every statement made by Chinese officials, who definitely demonstrate a lack of such prospective.
At the same time, we are committed to our main idea that the conclusion of the New START Treaty, which se t the known restrictions on warheads and delivery vehicles, has brought us to the line above which the possibility of further steps in this area must be considered exclusively with due account of potentials of other states that possess nuclear weapons, primarily the UK and France as the U.S. closest allies, and countries whose potentials, as I think, are considered in the general context of NATO planning, as well. These countries are significant to us above all. If the Americans have a different idea they should formulate their approach in a clearer and more understandable way or else all we can hear is certain slogans and certain ideas which do not lead to anything specific.
A parallel with the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8 last year is just apparent. It was also said at the time that there was a need for a new deal, a new comprehensive agreement that would cover such and such issues. And a certain period of time - 15 months - has already passed, but the U.S. has yet to specify its approaches regarding different suggestions, ideas and some documents that would outline a concrete range of issues that will be covered, etc. The same is happening to the New START Treaty: they say that it is necessary to cover the whole range, that it is necessary to tackle such and such issues, but it‘s all just talk. There is nothing concrete in it.
We will treat all American ideas in this sphere from the one and only possible position: to what extent this or that American suggestion meets or doesn‘t meet our interests, the interests of our security. If we conclude that such ideas fail to meet our interests or contradict them, in this case there will be no agreement.
An agreement is always a balance of interests and a combination of reciprocal steps. In my opinion, in the present situation the U.S. is intrinsically unable to take any steps to meet someone halfway. Therefore, it is quite difficult to discuss such ideas and slogans in detail without sensing their readiness to at least minimally take what we have been telling them into consideration.