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This is the official transcript of the meeting between the Russian President and Russia’s Foreign and Defense Ministers published by the Kremlin’s website.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, please provide an update on the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, and the disarmament dossier in general. What is going on in terms of limitation of offensive arms?
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Mr President,
Regarding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, as you know, it has been in force since 1988. It had an indefinite term. According to the information at our disposal, the United States has been violating the Treaty since 1999, when it started testing combat unmanned aerial vehicles that have the same characteristics as land-based cruise missiles banned by the Treaty.
The United States went on to use ballistic target missiles for testing their missile defence system, and in 2014 they began the deployment in their missile defence system positioning areas in Europe of Mk 41 vertical launching systems. These launchers are fully suitable as they are for Tomahawk intermediate-range attack missiles.
Vladimir Putin: And this is an outright violation of the Treaty.
Sergei Lavrov: This is an outright violation of the Treaty. Launchers of this kind have already been deployed in Romania, and preparations are underway to deploy them in Poland, as well as Japan.
Another matter of concern for us is that only recently, just a year ago, the United States in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review set the task of developing low-yield nuclear weapons, and it is probable that intermediate-range missiles will serve as a means of delivery for these weapons. It was also announced only recently that this provision of the US nuclear doctrine is beginning to materialise with missiles of this kind entering production.
In October 2018, the United States officially declared its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles. We did everything we could to save the Treaty considering its importance in terms of sustaining strategic stability in Europe, as well as globally. The last attempt of this kind was undertaken on January 15, when the US finally agreed to our request for holding consultations in Geneva.
In coordination with the Defence Ministry, we proposed unprecedented transparency measures that went far beyond our obligations under the INF Treaty in order to persuade the US that Russia was not in violation of this essential instrument. However, the US torpedoed these proposals. Instead, the US presented yet another ultimatum. It is obvious that we cannot accept it since it contradicts the INF Treaty in both letter and spirit.
With Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The US announced that it was suspending its participation in the INF Treaty, launched the official withdrawal from it, and said that it will no longer consider itself restricted by the INF Treaty. As far as we can see, this means that the US will make missiles in addition to engaging in research and development activities that have already been factored into the current budget.
There is no doubt that these developments make things worse overall in the sphere of nuclear disarmament and strategic stability. It all started with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, when the US decided to withdraw from it in 2002, as you know all too well. This was done despite numerous initiatives by the Russian Federation at the UN General Assembly to save the ABM Treaty. The UN General Assembly passed a number of resolutions supporting the ABM Treaty. However, this did not stop the United States from withdrawing from it.
As a partial replacement for the ABM Treaty, the US and Russia signed a joint declaration that same year, 2002, on new strategic relations with a promise to settle all issues related to the so-called third positioning area of the missile-defence system being deployed in Europe at the time. The declaration provided for holding consultations as a way to reach common ground. This did not happen due to the unwillingness of the United States to take up Russia’s concerns in earnest.
In 2007, we made another gesture of good will at your instructions by coming forward with an initiative that consisted of working together to resolve the problems related to US missile defence system’s third positioning area in Europe. Once again, the US backed out of this proposal.
However, at the Russia-NATO Summit in Lisbon in 2010, we once again called for Russia, the US and Europe to work together on a continental missile-defence system. This call was not heeded. Nevertheless, two years later, in 2012, at the NATO Summit in Chicago it was NATO that called for dialogue with Russia on missile defence. However, all this good will boiled down to the US insisting that we simply come to terms with their missile defence approach, despite all the obvious risks and threats to our security posed by this approach.
Let me remind you that in 2013 Russia once again called on the US Department of State to open consultations, and came forward with concrete proposals. There was no reply. And in 2014, the United States brought the dialogue on missile defence to a halt and declared the intention to deploy its positioning areas in Europe and Asia, while also strengthening other systems, including in Alaska and on the east coast.
With Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Talking about other essential international security and strategic stability instruments, the approach adopted by the United States to performing its commitments under the universal Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has been a matter of concern for Russia. In fact, despite numerous reminders on our part, the United States commits serious violations of the Treaty in its actions within NATO. The Treaty commits nuclear powers to refrain from transferring the corresponding nuclear technologies.
Despite these provisions, NATO engages in so-called joint nuclear missions whereby the United States together with five NATO countries where US nuclear weapons are deployed conduct nuclear weapons drills with countries that are not part of the five nuclear-weapons states. This is a direct violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Another treaty that had a special role in removing the threat of nuclear war, or, to be more precise, whose preparation was a source of hope for addressing these threats, was the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT]. The United States did not ratify it even though doing so was among Barack Obama’s campaign promises when he ran for president.
Right now, this instrument is completely off the radar, since the United States has lost all interest in any consultations on joining this Treaty. Being a party to the CTBT and acting in good faith, Russia holds special events at the UN General Assembly every year in order to promote the Treaty and mobilise public opinion in favour of its entry into force, which requires the United States to join it, among other things.
Apart from the INF Treaty, there is the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty [START] that remains in force. It is also essential for preserving at least some measure of strategic stability and global parity. It is also under threat, since its effective functioning has come into question after the recent move by the United States to remove from accountability under the treaty 56 submarine based Trident launchers and 41 heavy bombers by declaring them converted into nun-nuclear.
This is possible under the treaty, but the other party has the right to make sure that once converted these weapons cannot be reconverted back into nuclear arsenals.
Vladimir Putin: An inspection has to be carried out.
Sergei Lavrov: Yes, an inspection. And there have to be technical means to persuade us that these systems cannot be reconverted and returned into the nuclear arsenal.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
We have been holding talks since 2015 to make sure that the United States complies with its obligations on this matter. So far, there have been no results. The technical solutions we have been offered so far cannot persuade us that more than 1,200 warheads, which is an enormous amount, cannot be returned to the nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, repeated proposals by Russia to launch talks on extending the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty beyond 2021, when its first term is set to expire, have fallen on deaf ears in the United States. All we hear is that the decision on the New START has yet to be taken.
All in all, the situation is quite alarming. Let me reiterate that the decision taken by the United States on the INF Treaty is of course a matter of serious concern for the entire world, especially for Europe. Nevertheless, the Europeans followed in the footsteps of the United States with all NATO members speaking out in explicit support of the position adopted by the United States to refrain from any discussions on mutual concerns. All we hear are groundless ultimatums requiring us to take unilateral measures without any evidence to support unfounded accusations.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Mr Shoigu, what is the Defence Ministry’s view on the current situation? And what do you propose in this regard?
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, it is obvious to us, despite the murky language that we hear, that apart from openly conducting research and development on the production of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, there have been actual violations of the INF Treaty, and this has been going on for several years. To put it simply, the United States has started producing missiles of this kind.
In this connection, we have the following proposals regarding retaliatory measures.
First, we propose launching in the coming months research and development, as well as development and engineering with a view to creating land-based modifications of the sea-based Kalibr launching systems.
Second, we propose launching research and development, followed by development and engineering to create land-based launchers for hypersonic intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.
We ask you to support these proposals.
Vladimir Putin: I agree. This is what we will do. Our response will be symmetrical. Our US partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the INF Treaty, and we are suspending it too. They said that they are engaged in research, development and design work, and we will do the same.
I agree with the Defence Ministry’s proposals to create a land-based version of the Kalibr launchers and work on a new project to develop a land-based hypersonic intermediate-range missile.
At the same time, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race. I wanted to ask you, would it be possible to finance these initiatives using the existing budget allocations to the Defence Ministry for 2019 and the following years?
Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, we closely studied this matter, and will propose adjustments to the 2019 budget in order to be able to carry out these initiatives within the limits set by the state armaments programme and the defence procurement orders for 2019 without going over budget.
With Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Vladimir Putin: This should not entail any increases in the Defence Ministry’s budget.
Sergei Shoigu: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: Good.
In this connection, there is one more thing I wanted to ask you. Every six months we hold meetings in Sochi to discuss the implementation of the state defence order with the commanders of the Armed Forces and the defence sector representatives.
Starting this year, I propose modifying this format. I want to see how efforts to deploy our systems are progressing. This refers to the Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile, the Peresvet combat laser weapon, which has already been delivered to the army, and the Avangard system, which is now in serial production, having completed the test phase. I want to see how the production of the Sarmat missile is advancing alongside preparations for placing it on combat duty.
Several days ago, you reported to me on the completion of a key stage in testing the Poseidon multipurpose strategic unmanned underwater vehicle. We have to look at how these efforts are advancing.
We are aware of the plans by some countries to deploy weapons in outer space. I want to hear a report on how this threat can be neutralised.
There is another important topic I wanted to raise with both the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry.
For many years, we have been calling on numerous occasions for holding meaningful disarmament talks on almost all aspects of this matter. In recent years, we have seen that our partners have not been supportive of our initiatives. On the contrary, they always find pretexts to further dismantle the existing international security architecture.
In this connection, I would like to highlight the following considerations, and I expect the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry to use them as guidance. All our proposals in this area remain on the table just as before. We are open to negotiations. At the same time, I ask both ministries not to initiate talks on these matters in the future. I suggest that we wait until our partners are ready to engage in equal and meaningful dialogue on this subject that is essential for us, as well as for our partners and the entire world.
Another important consideration I would like to share with the senior officials of both ministries. We proceed from the premise that Russia will not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons, if we develop weapons of this kind, neither in Europe nor anywhere else until US weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.
I ask the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry to closely monitor developments and promptly submit proposals on ways to respond.