From Izvestia, Aug. 22, 2022, p. 1. Complete text:
Editors’ Note. – Russia can only use nuclear weapons in response to an attack – “as a means of self-defense in extreme circumstances” – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said to Izvestia. The diplomat replied in writing to questions regarding Moscow’s vision of disarmament dialogue with the US, the threat of nuclear war and prospects for a new exchange of prisoners with Washington.
* * *
Question. – On Aug. 1, [US President] Joe Biden said that his administration was willing to negotiate a new arms control framework to replace the New START treaty, and that Russia should demonstrate its willingness to [undertake] this work. Is Moscow ready to discuss this topic with Washington again?
Answer. – We have repeatedly affirmed that we are. as a matter of principle. open to serious, pragmatic and results-oriented interaction aimed at reducing tensions and risks, preventing a dangerous escalation and an arms race, and enhancing strategic stability, including through arms control.
We also remember very well that the START treaty is not a treaty of unlimited duration and ideally, it should be replaced with a new agreement or agreements.
That said, we still need to make sure that the US changes its clearly destructive path and is willing to conduct an equal dialogue, take into account our security interests and concerns, and work together on laying the foundations for a new, more equitable and stable international security architecture.
Q. – For several years now, the US has been insisting that China join arms control talks. Russia is urging the UK and France to participate. Considering that Moscow and Washington are unable to establish bilateral dialogue, how realistic is this five-party format? What plans are there for cooperation with countries that are not members of the official nuclear club but possess nuclear weapons?
A. – We are convinced that any attempts to coerce anyone into dialogue are counterproductive, since such interaction – be it bilateral or multilateral – should involve joint, committed efforts in search of mutually acceptable results. As an illustration, I would consider it appropriate to remind [you] of the [former US president Donald] Trump administration’s attempts to pressure China into arms control dialogue. Those attempts looked utterly undiplomatic and at times even ridiculous. Predictably, China did not yield to such crude pressure.
Such methods are unacceptable to us. We believe that any future cooperation between nuclear powers should be based on consensus and take into account the interests of all parties concerned. This approach can be applied to any format – potential contacts between the nuclear powers recognized in the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – Ed.) or other countries with military nuclear potentials. Our priority remains unchanged: getting the UK and France to join this process as US military allies within a “nuclear alliance.” It is also important to bear in mind that in contrast to strategic stability dialogue, the possibilities have been practically exhausted for further progress toward nuclear arms reductions on a bilateral, Russian-US basis alone.
Q. – There was a new impetus on strategic stability dialogue following the extension of the New START treaty in 2021[see Vol. 73, No. 5, pp. 3‑6]. At the time, you held several meetings with your counterpart, US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. By the beginning of 2022, they evolved into security guarantee negotiations, with strategic stability becoming one of the main topics. This dialogue has been suspended at the US’s initiative since Feb. 24 [when Russia invaded Ukraine; see Vol. 74, No. 8, pp. 9‑13 – Trans.]. Will talks resume from the same positions as when they were frozen? How realistic is it to reach agreements on nuclear issues while Russia is conducting its special military operation in Ukraine?
A. – Speculating about prospects for a strategic dialogue with the US, especially in a situation where the Americans interrupted it, is a thankless task. Frankly, the very possibility of resuming it is far from certain, given Washington’s recklessly aggressive policy toward Russia. Naturally, we are seeing certain signals regarding the resumption of the START dialogue, but it is not clear yet what lies behind them. Generally, talks are not conducted via the media.
As for our vision of a framework for strategic dialogue and the desired results, all of this is well known and remains unchanged. Our idea is a “new security equation” that would take into account all strategic stability factors. With this goal in mind, we are endeavoring to cover the whole range of offensive, defensive, nuclear and conventional weapons with a strategic potential.
Q. – NATO is refusing to get involved in the conflict on Kiev’s side, since a direct clash between the alliance and Moscow could escalate into a nuclear war. What is the likelihood of such confrontation?
A. – We have repeatedly expressed our stance on the issue, including at the level of the foreign minister. As [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov has said, nuclear risks under the current turbulent conditions are quite significant and should not be underestimated. However, they should not be artificially exaggerated, either.
We believe that one of the most important goals in this context is for all five [of the mentioned] nuclear powers to stand by their commitment to the idea that any war between nuclear countries is unacceptable. As the Ukraine crisis escalated through the fault of the Kiev regime and its Western patrons, this approach, far from losing its relevance, has actually become even more relevant.
The destructive path of the NATO countries to ignore our ‘red lines’ and get involved in a confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, balancing on the brink of a direct military conflict, is extremely risky. It is obvious that this is fraught with further escalation, up to and including a military clash of nuclear powers with all the ensuing dire consequences. This must be prevented.
Q. – The Fundamentals of Russian State Policy in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence say that Russia can use nuclear weapons “in the event of aggression against Russia involving conventional weapons.” Under what circumstances would Russia be ready to use nuclear weapons?
A. – You rightly referred to the Fundamentals of Russian State Policy in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence. The doctrinal principles contained in this document are extremely explicit: Russia hypothetically allows a nuclear response only in retaliation to aggression involving weapons of mass destruction against us or our allies, or aggression involving conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is threatened. “Aggression” is the key word in both scenarios. In other words, Russia can only use nuclear weapons in response to an attack – as a means of self-defense in extreme circumstances. There is no room for speculation or fantasies here.
Q. – Earlier, Washington offered to exchange [convicted Russian arms dealer] Viktor Bout for US citizens Paul Whelan [an American detained in Russia on espionage charges – Trans.] and Brittney Griner [an American professional basketball player convicted on drug charges in Russia and sentenced to nine years in prison – Trans.]. How realistic is this offer? When and under what conditions could such an exchange take place?
A. – The exchange of convicted Russian and US citizens is an extremely sensitive matter that must not be allowed to move into the public domain, as the current US administration is doing to score political points.
We have more than once urged Washington to observe the rules of “quiet diplomacy” and not interfere with the work of relevant Russian and US agencies authorized by our presidents to search for solutions and specific exchange options. This was precisely how it became possible to secure the release of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced to 20 years in the US on trumped-up charges. He was swapped for US student Trevor Reed, who was sentenced in Russia [to nine years in prison in 2020] on charges of assaulting a police officer.
Hopefully, the US will refrain from slipping into propaganda and will act responsibly, following the principle of “do no harm.”