Numerous statements made by high-ranking American officials about the need to include in a possible future negotiation process between Moscow and Washington the issue of extending the Russian-American New START until 2026 all five new types of Russian weapons systems, which were announced by the Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018, have initiated a discussion in the Russian expert community about the expediency of extending the provisions of the said Treaty upon them.
Experts advocating the strengthening of Russia’s defence capability and strategic stability in the world, express deep doubt that the Russian side should meet Washington’s demands to proliferate all newest Russian weapon system that, it claims, fall under the provisions of the Treaty, signed in Prague in 2010. Another, very small group of Russian experts, who maintain close contacts with Western political think tanks, considers it possible to either abandon all or downsize some part of Russia’s advanced weapons systems in exchange for the United States’ agreement to extend the Prague Treaty for extra five years after it expires in February 2021, and to revive arms control process which, according to both sides, has reached a dead end.
What exactly is Washington interested in this matter?
The American side initially named only two of these five weapons: the Vanguard hypersonic gliding cruise combat unit and the new “Sarmat” ICBM, which should give it its initial speed after the launch. Subsequently, other new Russian strike systems were designated: the air-launched “Kinzhal” missile system, the “Poseidon” multipurpose autonomous underwater drone, and the “Burevestnik” cruise missile equipped with a mini-nuclear engine. The American leadership decided not to pay attention to the combat laser “Peresvet”, because laser weapons are not affected in any arms control treaties, except for the Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents at Sea (INCSEA) in 1972.
This raises two significant questions.
First, why did the American side try to extend the provisions of the New START to these Russian systems?
Second, what are its objectives in demanding that these systems should be linked to the provisions of the Treaty?
The analysis of the statements of the military-political leadership of the United States shows that it has displayed considerable concern about the performance characteristics of these weapons, which have been partly declared by the Russian side, and also due to the fact that the American military-industrial complex for many years has virtually produced nothing to oppose to these Russian systems having high striking capabilities and unmatched flight speed performance.
Having no grounds to reach agreements with Moscow on this issue, Washington also arrived at the conclusion that both of these latest perspectives and the most high-tech Russian strike systems will allow to repeatedly strengthen Russia’s defence potential in a short time at a moderate cost of logistics and money.
To give legal foundation to its claims that the mentioned new Russian weapons systems can be deployed before February 5, 2021, that is, before the expiration date of the New START, the US State Department stated that they will be considered as “existing types” and will be subject to the provisions of the said Treaty “at the appropriate time of their development cycle”.
But such systems are simply not mentioned in this Treaty. Paragraph 8 of its Article III contains specific lists of the SOA carriers of the two sides.
It stated that on the date of its signing (April 8, 2010), the “existing types” of intercontinental ballistic missiles for the Russian Federation were: RS-12M, RS-12M2, RS-18, RS-20 and RS-24, and the existing Russian types of submarine-launched ballistic missiles were referred to as SLBMs RSM-50, RSM-52, RSM-54 and RSM-56. The types of heavy strategic bombers (HSBs) of Russia were also specified. Of course, all three components of us strategic triad were also listed. The same article also referred to the parties’ existing ICBM and SLBM launchers, as well as the types of HSB. As anyone can see, the “Sarmat” ICBM was not there in sight at all.
However, Article V, paragraph 1, allowed and still allows the parties to modernize and replace their SOA without specifying any deadlines or milestones of their production. As for the hypersonic winged combat glider “Vanguard”, it is a unique combat unit, about the restrictive parameters of which the New START does not say anything at all. And Article II specifies only three concrete types of weapons due to be reduced: ICBMs, SLBMs and HSB of the two sides, their launchers and warheads up to a certain number. But nothing is said about the classic ‘buses’ (combat cones) of even the traditional strategic nuclear triad of the two sides.
As for the new “Sarmat” ICBM, in accordance with Article III of the Prague Treaty on the principles of counting ICBMs and SLBMs, only those types that are “maintained, stored and transported” in the form of already assembled missiles in launch containers or without them can be classified as such. However, as is known, the “Sarmat” ICBM has not yet entered service with the Russian strategic missile forces. For this reason, it cannot yet be taken into account in the New START.
It would be strange if Moscow would agree to the reduction or destruction of its new advanced weapons systems just because Washington so desires, especially in an environment where Russia has made much more progress in their development than the United States. Such a step would be very dangerous, as it would have a negative impact on the strengthening of Russia’s national defence and security, and would further undermine strategic stability in the global dimension. The new weapons systems in question make it possible to significantly strengthen not only Russia’s national security but also strategic stability on a global scale since their adoption can simultaneously correct some imbalances in nuclear, missile-defence and heavy conventional weapons that have been created at the initiative of the United States and in its favour.
The question also arises: what can be discussed at all in the negotiations on hypersonic systems between Russia and the United States? Destruction of Russian systems in conditions when the American military-industrial complex could not create competitive systems in this sphere? What is the point of eliminating such Russian weapons systems, if Washington has practically refused to recognize the relationship between strategic offensive nuclear weapons and strategic defensive weapons, which was recorded in the preamble of the New START? What is the point of this, if the USA adheres to destructive principles in the field of arms control, abandoning the principle of equality and equal security and not abandoning offensive military doctrines and the strategy of the first nuclear strike? So, the American side does not have any legal grounds to extend the provisions of the New START to new perspective weapons systems of the Russian Federation.
The American side may be given a different answer on this issue, which may be simple and specific: Moscow does not intend to conduct any discussions on the issue of restrictions or reductions of these systems with the United States, which still has a negative attitude to 13 international treaties in the field of arms control (six of them are directly or indirectly related to nuclear weapons), still retains tactical nuclear arsenals in Europe, have already brought carriers of nuclear weapons in the form of HSB and “dual-capable aircraft”, as well as sea-based and land-based BMD infrastructure very close to the territory of Russia.
Speaking on November 6, 2019, in the Kremlin President Vladimir Putin said: “Our Army and Navy have proved their high readiness, and we intend to build up the defence potential, put on combat duty systems of hypersonic, laser and other modern weapons, which other countries do not yet have.” It is important to note that the head of the Russian state indicated the intention “… to put on combat duty systems of hypersonic, laser and other modern weapons …”.
Stressing that this step is not a reason to threaten anyone, he added: “on the contrary, we are ready to do everything in our power to push the disarmament process in the light of our latest weapons systems, whose task is sole to guarantee security in view of the growing threats to us.” It is important to pay attention to the phrase “…push the disarmament process….” and not to disarm unilaterally for its sake. Of key importance is also the second part of the quoted statement about the task of the latest weapons systems, which is “… solely to guarantee security in view of the growing threats to us”.
It is quite obvious that by sticking out the problem of “newest Russian weapons” with an artificial link to the New START and wanting to involve the PRC in it, which has repeatedly stated the absence of such a possibility, Washington still decided to withdraw from the Prague Treaty according to a similar scheme, which is used as a propaganda and sly cover for the unjustified and unilateral denunciation of the INF Treaty in August 2019.
Moscow does not consider it possible to discuss the inclusion of new Russian weapons in the New START without its revision, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at the Moscow conference on non-proliferation, held in the first decade of November 2019. He recalled that on the American side there are arguments about the extension of the Treaty “to new Russian weapons that do not fall under its scope”, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly spoken about. “This is impossible without ‘opening’ and substantial revision of the text of the agreement,” he said.
It is quite obvious that such ‘intervention into the text’ of the New START for the purpose of its any revision, editing of already agreed and approved Articles or inclusion of any new formulas would lead to a radical breakdown of this agreement, which does not meet the fundamental interests in the field of national security of the Russian Federation.
As for the possible refusal of the United States to extend the New START or its unilateral denunciation, referring to this topic on the sidelines of the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg in June 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not rule out the possibility of Russia’s refusal to extend New START in the event that the United States will not go for its extension for the next five years, that is till 2026. Naturally, the responsibility for this will fall only on Washington. And will not on anybody else.