In a series of significant discussions and a special interview with Rossiya Segodnya, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reiterated Russia’s plea for the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). President Vladimir Putin had clearly stated that “Russia is ready to extend it without any preconditions,” he said. As for deadlines, Putin had emphasised that “Russia is willing to immediately, as soon as possible, before the year is out, renew this Treaty,” he added.
In The Great Game show on Channel One Russia on December 22, 2019 Lavrov spoke, among others, about the closed door meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on December 10.
“It was a coincidence that our meeting was held on the day when the House Committee launched the impeachment procedure. We coordinated the date a month before my trip to Washington. It is a tradition of Russian-U.S. relations that when the chief diplomat visits the capital city of the partner, he is received by the head of state. It is a long-standing tradition,” Lavrov, who has been at the helm of Russian diplomacy for the past 15 years.
On New START, he repeatedly referred to the statement made by President Vladimir Putin that, “if the treaty is no more, the last instrument for arms control and the last instrument in the field of strategic stability will be lost”.
The issue was earlier discussed on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June 2019. Putin suggested that Russia and the United States should, at least, negotiate the extension of the New START, which should remain a crucial element in arms control and confidence building structure, and that its extension should be complemented with talks on the involvement of other states.
President Trump said that China should be involved in the negotiations. President Putin replied that Russia had asked the Chinese about this and that they had publicly stated that they consider it unnecessary to participate in the talks to reduce their nuclear capacity.
“They (the Chinese) said that the Chinese strategic nuclear forces were a far cry from the Russian and U.S. nuclear forces when it comes to scale and structure. And, therefore, they see no reason for joining the talks and would not take part in them. We told our American partners in Osaka that since the Chinese had officially stated their position, we respect it. If Washington believes that China must take part in the talks by all means, they should discuss this with Beijing,” the Russian foreign minister explained.
“In principle, we are ready to discuss multilateral approaches, but in this case we should also consider inviting France and Britain, if we have in mind the legally recognised nuclear states. There are also states that have declared possession of nuclear weapons and those that do not admit or deny having them. This process should begin someday in the future, but we will not force our Chinese strategic partners to sit down at the negotiating table when they don’t see themselves there,” he added during the discussion.
According to Lavrov, the deadline for extending the Treaty has not been agreed upon, yet the process needs to be completed before the Treaty expires on February 5, 2021. This means that Russia should not only reach an agreement with the United States but also complete certain procedures at the Federal Assembly, because it would need to amend Federal Law No. 1 of January 28, 2011 on the ratification of the New START.
“Russia believes that it will be expedient to preserve the New START, which is the last remaining international legal instrument for restraining the nuclear missile arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers and making activities in this sphere predictable and verifiable. In addition, its extension will give us additional time, which we would be able to use to discuss possible forms and methods of controlling new weapons and military technology,” Lavrov told Rossiya Segodnya, summing up policy activities for the outgoing 2019.
The United States has not clarified its position on the extension of the New START. “Nevertheless, we believe it would be wrong to put off indefinitely the resolution of problems that are important for our countries and for the whole world. Russia’s proposals for developing cooperation in various areas remain on the table. This also applies to the strategic stability issue, as Russia and the United States bear special responsibility for it as the largest nuclear powers,” Lavrov said.
In particular, Russia advocates extending the bilateral New START Treaty without preconditions or artificial delays. After the Americans suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF Treaty), it is the last remaining international legal instrument that limits the nuclear missile potentials of the two countries and ensures predictability in the field of arms control.
“We would like to hope that Washington will take a sensible and responsible approach,” Lavrov said.
“If the Americans accept our proposal for an unconditional renewal of the Treaty, we believe the entire international community will benefit from it. We will not allow a situation where there will not be a single tool to regulate strategic stability. We can renew the treaty and continue discussions about specific steps to implement it. The United States can then, not in a rush in any way, advance its multilateral initiatives, which, to reiterate, I would like to see spelled out on paper. So far, we haven’t seen any of that,” Lavrov emphasised.