Jeffrey LewisVotkinsk Portal Monitoring Facility

Credit: Otto Stokes

Within the community, we have been going back and forth on whether the United States is still present at Russia’s Votkinsk Machine Building Plant.

As far as I can tell, the US still staffs the Votkinsk Portal Monitoring Facility, which basically allows the United States to count mobile missiles leaving the Votkinsk facility. (The purpose of monitoring production is to provide some confidence that the other side isn’t attempting to break out of the treaty by building missiles that are, by design, very hard to find.)

The most recent news reference I can find is in 2006, when the Yekaterinaburg Counsel-General made a visit. (Wow, talk about a hardship post.) Votkinsk was included under both INF and START treaties. It seems likely we stopped perimeter monitoring when INF inspection regime ended in 2001. Please, dear readers, feel free to fill in the details.

None of this should obscure the really important point: There is a Facebook Group for the Votkinsk Portal Monitoring Facility.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

God help us if we ever manage to stand up JDEC. All humor aside, the site has great images. And, best all, there is an image of the portal gates:

Credit: Otto Stokes

The caption reads: Portal Gates, I didn’t take this one, but was told it was from a long time ago and was approved, note whats missing (photoshop from their side I assume).

I am not sure what the Russians may have ps’d out — which reminds me how much I loved The Commissar Vanishes. You can, however, see the several structures behind the portal gates in Google Earth. I am pretty sure this is the site; it is amazing how clearly you can see the three structures that hold the two gates in the satellite photograph.

Update | 12:26 November 13, 2008 We have a lot of discussion of about whether perimeter monitoring is still going on in the comments.


  1. Muskrat

    The big green metal gates are the factory gates; it’s some of the little crossing-guard arms that are the ‘portal gates’ in the sense of regulating traffic subject to treaty rules. At the end of INF in 2001 we stopped using the Cargoscan x-ray system to verify that SS-25s weren’t SS-20s. (It was housed on a rail spur just to the left of the frame in the ‘portals’ picture.) Now we just count SS-25s, by, IIRC, measuring the launch canisters in the railcars by hand.

    I have no way of knowing if we’re still there, but unless all SS-25 and SS-27 mobile missile production ceased a year or more ago (para 3, Sec. XVI, START Inspection Protocol), we still have the right to be there, and I can’t see us having foregone that right.

    Yes, I’ve been there. Once. Briefly.

  2. Andreas Persbo

    Last time I visited Foggy Bottom, about six months ago, they were still monitoring communications on this. If I remember correctly, they’ll maintain presence until the expiry date – and then they’ll pull the team.

  3. Anya L. (History)

    Is this a good time to plug the pretty hilarious and darn great DTRA English-Russian Dictionary for Escort Interpreters?

  4. Vot Rot Vet

    Never thought this is how I’d get my photo on ArmsControlWonk…

    Anyway, “the community” must not be too in tune with the dealings at Votkinsk. Of course the US is still there and will be until the treaty expires. Furthermore, I’m not sure why perimeter monitoring wouldn’t still be happening twice a day. Except when it’s below -20, of course.

  5. anonomouse (History)

    “Perimeter” monitoring meant walking around the 4.5km fenceline on a concrete roadway twice a day. “Portal” monitoring is the whole enchilada. I was there for two years. Some of those shirtless people are my friends, and they have been there on the upwards of 10 years. (They guy with the fuzzy hat? A really good cook!) They are all insane.

    As for what’s missing in the photo – it’s the Russian video camera to the far right…it’s blurred.

  6. pigiron (History)

    no smokestack

  7. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Thanks to all the VPMF alumni for writing in!

    On the issue of losing touch with Votkinsk — sometimes things get put to bed quietly. There may be some folks over the past couple of years arguing that the expense associated with VPMF wasn’t worth it. I don’t have all the details, yet.

  8. Muskrat

    Yeah, that Google Earth pushpin is right on the site. You can see the outline matches the old INF site diagram from

    The buildings to the left (west) of the of the pushpin are the PPCM structures, including dorms, a storage barn (attached to rail siding for indoor missile canister openings/viewings under INF) and the old Cargoscan structure. The real inspectors here could annotate the whole area far better than I could.

  9. Chuck Thornton (History)

    First of all, my DTRA/OSIA arms control inspector friends are a special breed of people. That one of them brought a Slip-N-Slide to Russia is awesome.

    Most of Russia’s critical ballistic missiles are produced at Votkinsk, including the Topol, Topol-M, Bulava, and Iskander. The full-time, on-site American inspectors at Votkinsk have long been a thorn in Russia’s side. Russia stopped maintaining an equivalent presence in the US years ago, and they’ve wanted the Americans to leave Votkinsk ever since.

    Jeffrey’s latest update speculated on the high cost to the US in maintaining an ongoing on-site presence. The costs and trade-offs discussion has popped up at the implementer level for years. Plus, it’s not always been easy for DTRA/OSIA to get inspectors to commit to long-term deployments to Votkinsk. It’s not exactly an inviting spot.

    Nevertheless, here are a few examples of Russia’s complaints on this matter:

    Generals Vasiliy Lata and Midykhat Vildanov, “START Treaty: One-Way Street,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, 10 Oct 08:

    citation The problems related to unilateral implementation by Russia of Clause 14, Article XII also need to be addressed immediately: “Each party will have the right to permanently monitor the facilities where intercontinental ballistic missiles are manufactured for the mobile missile systems to confirm the number of manufactured missiles for this type of launchers.” American observers have been staying at the Votkinsk Machine Building Plant (VMZ) where Topol and Topol-M ground-mobile missile systems are manufactured, where they monitor the perimeter and entry checkpoints of the plant to rule out the possibility of uncontrolled movement of missiles or their stages.

    At the same time, the Russian side assiduously implements provisions of Clause 7 of Annex 6: “For a newly-produced ICBM for mobile launchers of ICBMs, the inspected Party shall inform the monitors of the data from the unique identifier applied to such an ICBM (the factory number of the missile)…. before such an item exits through the portal of the monitored facility and shall provide to the inspecting Party such data….” Because provisions of the START treaty apply to the Topol-M ground-mobile missile systems too, one of the first things Americans did was that they inspected unique Topol-M ground-mobile missile systems at the plant checkpoint, verified their unique identifiers and entered them in the database, as if giving permission to clear the missiles at the checkpoint. Apparently, that was the climax of partner-like and trust-based relations which many officials and so-called independent experts admire! In specialists’ assessments, these provisions of the treaty had to be revised or unilaterally annulled long ago, and Americans were to be asked to leave the plant forever. There are more than enough arguments in support of this opinion: Russian observers are not allowed to a similar plant in the United States; production volume of the Topol-M missile are is insignificant, and so on.

    So, the Russian side has a number of problems with US observers’ presence at the VMZ and prospects of manufacturing of new types of strategic weapons at the VMZ. In addition, Americans’ presence at the VMZ is regulated additionally by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which has of unlimited duration. If the term of the current version of the START treaty is further extended, Americans will remain at the VMZ. citation

    Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov quoted in Interfax-AVN Online, 08 Apr 09:

    citation [START I] in particular allows the U.S. side to control production and technological processes at Russia’s leading missile enterprise – the Votkinsk plant, which produces Bulava and Topol -M missiles.

    “I felt the national disgrace in Votkinsk because of what happened along the perimeter of the plant. Americans do everything they want there,” Mironov said.

    The Russian side is not involved in the mirror monitoring of the U.S. missile plants because it gave up expensive inspection work due to the lack of funds, he said.

    The U.S. side fully uses the potential of the excessive START I control mechanism, he added. citation

    Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov quoted in Yuriy Filatov, “START-1 Prepared by Traitors and Criminals,” KM.RU, 08 May 09:

    citation Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov reported to Russian journalists that those who signed this Treaty were criminals. And that the American intelligence services, based on its terms, monitor the Votkinsk Plant, thus getting their hands on the most up-to-date technologies. citation

    Retired Colonel-General Varfolomey Vladimirovich Korobushin, the first vice president of the Academy of Military Sciences and an RVSN veteran quoted in Dmitriy Andreyev, “The New Treaty: Predictions and Expectations,” Krasnaya Zvezda, 28 May 09:

    citation We need to preserve the inspections to monitor the missiles, which are on alert, but we need to reduce the number of inspections per year. Furthermore, we have an American delegation at Votkinsk, which is monitoring practically all missile production, both strategic and also operational-tactical missiles, but we don’t have that monitoring in the United States. citation

    A Russian military diplomat quoted in Interfax-AVN Online, 05 Nov 09:

    citation U.S. inspectors, who have been verifying Russia’s compliance with the START I Treaty at the Votkinsk Plant in Udmurtia, will end their mission on December 5, a military diplomat told Interfax-AVN in Moscow.

    “The START I Treaty expires on December 5. The new agreement, which is being drafted by order of the Russian and American presidents, will suggest a new verification mechanism,” he said.

    Russia says visits by the American inspectors to the defense plant manufacturing Topol M and Bulava strategic missiles is excessive and unreasonable. “There are plenty of other ways to make sure your partner is honest and open. It is totally unnecessary to admit foreign investors to the plant, which ensures national security,” he said.

    Russia gave up on inspections of a similar American plant in the 1990s because of financial problems. “The current American inspection of the Votkinsk Plant has nothing to do with equality,” the diplomat said. citation

  10. anonomouse (History)

    The four dorms are called Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Roosevelt is the dining hall, offices and gym. Lincoln was kind of a party place, though always immaculately vacuumed in the mornings.

    There is a tennis court, where mostly dogdeball is played, a volleyball court, a bit of a kitchen garden out by the garbage cans, a screened-in gazebo for summer hangouts, and a really big satellite dish for picking up AFN.

    Nowadays, with microwave Dish TV receivers, the need for satellite reception is unnecessary, but it feeds some wonderful paranoia all around to have a giant, white NASA-grade tracking antenna on the grounds.

    The warehouse facility has a sauna in the back, though key-access was changed to host control for fire safety reasons a few years back. The fields to the north fill up entirely with snow in winter and inspectors can go out there, under escort, and tromp around on XC-skis from November through April.

    The Data Control Center (DCC, or TsSD) is the small, t-shaped building nearest the road into the factory. That’s the 24-hour manning post, where one USG inspector and two contractor employees pull two 12-hour shifts every day.

    The biggest issue out there is isolation and morale. As such, the gym is remarkably modern, all the dorm dayrooms have large-screen TVs, the food budget provides for fresh strawberries and prime steaks pretty much year round, and sometimes the only sound is the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.

  11. User Hostile

    15 years+ ago, I applied for the job after seeing a story in the WSJ, but never heard anything back. I guess you had to know someone. On the other hand, staying in Baikonur for a few weeks for a launch campaign did give me a taste for a lot of Baltika 5 after the first week.

  12. Abdullah (History)

    VPMF will be closing for good on 5 Dec 09. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. It was a great gig for a lot of people, myself included.

  13. Chuck Thornton (History)
  14. Chuck Thornton (History)

    I use hyperbole as much as anyone, but c’mon:

    “Goodbye Votkinsk – US is losing control over Russia’s nuclear weapons”

  15. VOT