From The Economist
Angry over sanctions, Russia suspends an arms-control deal
THE list reads like a hostage-taker’s demands. Russia wants America to roll back the expansion of NATO, repeal the Magnitsky Act, end sanctions and pay compensation for Russia’s losses. Until it does, Vladimir Putin declared this week, Russia will stop abiding by an agreement regulating the disposal of plutonium. Russia was forced to act, Mr Putin claimed, because of “the threat to strategic stability posed by America’s hostile actions” (and its failure to deliver on its end of the deal). The move is a reminder that, unlike America, Russia is happy to throw nuclear arguments into the mix when it does not get its way.
The suspension of the Plutonium Management and Disposal Agreement (PMDA) is a message intended not so much for Barack Obama as for his successor. “Russia does not plan to work seriously with America” until a new administration arrives in 2017, says Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council. Mr Putin’s demands serve as a “wish list” should the next American president seek to restore the relationship.
Tensions between Russia and America have been building over Syria, where ceasefire efforts have failed and Russian jets continue to pound rebels in Aleppo. On October 3rd, the day Mr Putin issued his decree, American officials announced they were pulling out of talks with Russia over Syria. “Russia failed to live up to its own commitments,” the State Department declared. Since the war in Ukraine, according to Samuel Charap of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank based in London, Russia and America have managed to protect some islands of co-operation, such as over Iran’s nuclear programme. Now, he says, the tensions have “begun to sweep over those islands”.
Russia’s willingness to invoke its nuclear might for political aims is alarming. A year after annexing Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin announced it could deploy nuclear weapons there. Even before suspending the PMDA, Russia had eroded the spirit of nuclear co-operation that prevailed after the end of the cold war. For the past three years, America has alleged that Russia is in breach of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) because it has tested a ground-launched cruise missile with prohibited range. Russia has also refused to discuss limits on tactical nuclear weapons, the anticipated follow-up to the New START strategic weapons treaty of 2010. Mr Putin snubbed Mr Obama’s final Nuclear Security Summit earlier this year.
Russia’s complaint that it has observed the PMDA more diligently than America does have some substance. Dogged by delays and rising costs in building a special facility to dispose of its plutonium, Mr Obama has opted for a cheaper method of treatment than the one specified in the agreement. Russia has declined to consent to this, putting America in technical breach of the deal.
To keep the spirit of the agreement, America could press ahead with getting rid of its excess plutonium. Russia says it has no intention of using its stockpile for new warheads. Ridding the world of some of the stuff would make it marginally safer. The danger of suspending the PMDA is not so much in leaving more plutonium about, but in demonstrating that the Kremlin considers nuclear security just another bargaining chip.
Russian Iskander-M missile on its launcher-transporter
Russia moving nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad, says Estonia
Reports of Iskander-M missiles being moved to outpost between Poland and Lithuania fuels fears that Russia is seeking to expand control of Baltic Sea
Estonian officials have said that Russia appears to be moving powerful, nuclear capable missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost province sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania along the Baltic coast.
The Iskander-M missiles, which have a range of over 500km, are reportedly being transported by ship from the St Petersburg area. It had previously been reported that the Russians might seek to place the Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad but not until 2018-19.
If confirmed, the move would be seen by western governments as another sign that Russia is seeking to establish facts on the ground, from eastern Europe to the Middle East, before a new US president takes office in January.
Read the rest: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/07/russia-moving-nuclear-capable-missiles-into-kaliningrad-says-estonia
Russian road mobile ICBM. Reuters photo
Russia’s Nuclear Surge: Putin Adding Nukes While Obama Cuts
Should we be worried that Moscow deployed 429 more warheads than Washington? Why the number may be misleading—and Putin ditching other treaties may be scarier.
By David Axe
The Daily Beast
10.07.16 1:00 AM ET
As of Oct. 1, Russia had hundreds more nuclear warheads deployed than the United States did. A startling 429 more, in fact, according to the U.S. State Department.
Don’t panic quite yet. The gap is probably temporary. But that doesn’t mean all’s well when it comes to potentially world-ending weaponry.
The reason for the disparity is simple. While the U.S. military has been steadily cutting the number of nukes it loads on submarines and bombers and in missile silos, Russian forces have recently been adding more.
Seemingly more worrying for the United States, Russia’s 1,796 deployed warheads exceed—by a whopping 246 weapons—the cap of 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons that Moscow and Washington agreed to as part of the 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The United States, meanwhile, is already well below the New START cap. America’s missile submarines, nuclear-capable heavy bombers, and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles are armed with just 1,367 warheads, the State Department says.
Both Russia’s nuke surplus and America’s lesser total could change in the next 17 months. Washington and Moscow have agreed on a Feb. 5, 2018, deadline for fully implementing New START. Until then, the countries’ respective nuclear arsenals could fluctuate in size—and often.
“You have to keep in mind that numbers go up and down on a day-to-day basis, so a one-day [snapshot] may mislead about force trends over time,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert who blogs at Arms Control Wonk, told The Daily Beast.
Both the United States and Russia have signaled their intention to abide by New START’s terms, meaning Russia will probably start shedding old warheads pretty soon, replacing them with a smaller number of newer atomic munitions and ultimately erasing the current nuclear disparity. “Neither of us is in violation of the agreement,” Lewis stressed.
New START is actually one of the few reasons for optimism amid the U.S.-Russia strategic arms race. For starters, the treaty only covers deployed nukes—meaning those on quick alert aboard subs, on planes, and in silos.
The treaty doesn’t limit how many perfectly functional nuclear weapons the United States and Russia can keep in storage. In many cases, those warheads could go from “stored” to “deployed” with just a few hours’ work.
Neither Washington nor Moscow discloses the exact number of nukes it keeps in storage, but Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, has estimated each country’s total stockpile to be around 4,500 warheads.
Neither government has expressed any interest in cutting its overall atomic stockpile. And both governments plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in coming decades modernizing their nuclear arsenals with new warheads… and better rockets, bombers, and submarines to carry them.
“Although these programs do not constitute a buildup of the overall nuclear arsenal, they are very comprehensive and reaffirm the determination by both Russia and the United States to retain large offensive nuclear arsenals at high levels of operational readiness,” Kristensen wrote on his blog.
While New START seems to be holding strong, a separate disarmament deal—whereby the United States and Russia agreed to dispose of excess fissile material—has just collapsed. The Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, signed in 2000, covered 34 tons of surplus, weapons-grade plutonium in each country.
Under the terms of the agreement, both Russia and the United States would render the plutonium unusable for military purposes—not only to decrease nuclear tensions between the two powers, but also to ensure the excess plutonium didn’t somehow wind up in terrorists’ hands.
Citing a “radically changed environment,” Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Oct. 3 that Russia was pulling out of the deal. Nevertheless, Moscow informally pledged that it wouldn’t use the old plutonium in weapons—agreement or no.
“The decision by the Russians to unilaterally withdraw from this commitment is disappointing,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “The announcement about the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement is more in line with those kinds of decisions that have only deepened Russia’s isolation in the international community.”
Meanwhile, the United States has been insisting for at least three years now that Russia is violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bans many types of short-range nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials have not said just how Russia is allegedly violating the treaty, but the purported breach might involve the road-mobile SS-25 ballistic missile and the RS-26, a small, nimble ballistic missile apparently designed to thwart U.S. missile defenses.
Earnest expressed cautious optimism that, despite everything, Russia is still committed to reducing the risk of atomic warfare. He pointed to Russia’s cooperation with the United States in negotiating the deal with Iran to end that country’s nuclear-weapons program. “I think that’s an indication of the priority that Russia has placed on nonproliferation,” Earnest said.
But Russia’s and America’s equal commitments to maintaining and modernizing their overall nuclear arsenals—regardless of any agreement to cap the number of deployed warheads—speaks to an underlying atomic distrust that lingers a quarter-century after the Cold War ended.
“How the two countries justify such large arsenals is somewhat of a mystery,” Kristensen noted, “but seems to be mainly determined by the size of the other side’s arsenal.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Roiuhani
China and Russia held joint military exercises in the Pacific Ocean in 2014 and then in the South China Sea in September 2016.
Tags: agreement regulating the disposal of plutonium, Aleppo, Assad, Estonia, Europe, Iran, Iskander-M missiles, Kaliningrad, Magnitsky Act, NATO, nuclear weapons, Obama, Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit, plutonium, Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, Putin, Russia, Russia moving nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad, Russian bombing, Russian International Affairs Council, Russian jets, Russian nuclear weapons, SS-25 ballistic missiles, Syria, U.S., Ukraine, Vladimir Putin