Jane VaynmanRussia Questions INF, Again

Russian officials have again questioned the future of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or just INF. In March 2005, Jeffrey blogged about a feeler from Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to then-SECDEF Rumsfeld about possible Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty. The details of the exchange are not clear, but Jeffrey pointed to reporting in Russian press speculating that Rumsfeld may have initiatied that conversation.

Now, in his speech to the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Vladimir Putin publicly suggested reconsidering INF:

In connection with this I would like to recall that in the 1980s the USSR and the United States signed an agreement on destroying a whole range of small- and medium-range missiles but these documents do not have a universal character.

Today many other countries have these missiles, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, India, Iran, Pakistan and Israel. Many countries are working on these systems and plan to incorporate them as part of their weapons arsenals. And only the United States and Russia bear the responsibility to not create such weapons systems.

It is obvious that in these conditions we must think about ensuring our own security.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking on the sidelines of the Munich conference, also raised the issues of countries “near our borders” with “such missiles” including China (which Putin omitted) and stating that “only two countries don’t have the right to have them – Russia and the United States … That cannot go on forever.”

Asked specifically about INF, Ivanov said, “I meant what I said. The treaty is simply a cold war vestige and we are concerned.”

A few days earlier, Ivanov made similar comments, telling Duma deputies in Moscow that signing INF was “the gravest mistake.”

While these statements do not express a direct linkage, Russian officials seem to raise objections to INF at the same time they voice strong opposition to US plans to deploy missile defense interceptors and radars in Eastern Europe.

Nikolai Sokov wonders in WMD Insights whether Ivanov and other genuinely favor withdrawal or are “simply using it as a bargaining chip vis-à-vis the United States and NATO to gain concessions on other issues” such as missile defense deployments.

Sentiments in favor of withdrawal from INF have been building within the Russian military establishment and, more importantly, expressed in public comments by Ivanov and other high level officials—mostly in March 2005 and summer/fall 2006. (Ivanov may have mentioned INF withdrawal as early as in Fall 2004, see page 7.)

I am not sure what to think about what seems like an elevation of the INF withdrawal discussion to a higher level. Is Russia emphasizing it now as an example of an “asymmetric” response to US missile defense plans? Or have they moved closer to an actual plan for withdrawal? Right now I am leaning towards the former.

While Russia may indeed be considering INF withdrawal, highlighting it in this context relects political posturing. At the same time as attacking the US for behaving like a sole superower, Putin brings up the INF, a treaty where Russia has equal superower status to the US. It is a convenient way to remind that Russia is the only state which can equal the US in the nuclear arena. Putin and Ivanov may also be suggesting that US plans which do not take Russia’s concerns into account, or where Russia is not consulted as they feel it should be (namely, on the missile defense deployments), can be met with a similar unilateral attitude on the Russian side.


  1. Little Mo (History)

    This seems like Russia is saying – “We once had the same status as the US. Now that they dominate international affairs, we are not on the same ranking and should not be held to the same standards.”

  2. Chris G (History)

    Surely this is just a recognition of the changing security environment that Russia perceives. A bilateral treaty between Russia and the US does not seem as relevant in a unipolar or multipolar setting. Missile Defence required US withdrawal from a bilateral agreement after all.

  3. DC Loser

    I wouldn’t read too much into this. Moscow’s always reserved (as does Washington) the right to leave the treaty with proper notification protocols. The US has already walked away from the ABM Treaty, so why is Russia bound to the INF Treaty for eternity? Russia rightly views countries along its periphery with INF class weapons (North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, to name a few). It feels unnecessarily constrained in a conventional capability where it can only employ SRMBs or ICBMs, with only aircraft capable of filling in the gap. As we all know, airplanes and the airfields needed for them are very expensive. The logistics of that would be too much for the Russians.

  4. Andy (History)

    I don’t think status has anything to do with this development.

    Russia sees the expansion of NATO, but more importantly the planned European anti-ballistic missile systems, as countering its own nuclear deterrent. Although the US insists the ABM system is geared toward the middle east, the Russians undoubtedly believe it will have some effectiveness against their own missiles. Withdrawal from the INF would allow Russia to counter any ABM system by rearming its cruise missiles with nuclear warheads and maintain what it sees as a credible deterrent.

  5. Muskrat (History)

    I thought the Russians could barely afford strategic modernization, much less spending on new (or revived) MRBM systems of doubtful utility. Are they that flush with oil revenues? Of course, the generals were never happy about having to give up the SS-23 500 km range system… as for Andy’s comment that it would alllow Russia to put nuclear warheads back on its cruise missiles, that’s not right. INF, like START, controls delivery vehicles, not warheads. Any cruise missiles Russia has are covered under START. I don’t think they had a GLCM program to revive.

  6. Amyfw (History)

    The threat to withdraw from the INF Treaty was a frequent player in the latter half of the 1990s, as Russia sought to counter and discourage the U.S. national missile defense deployments. I’d hear it in the same context here—as a threatened response to the European BMD site—rather than as a response to missiles in other countries. They know how much stake the U.S. used to put in the INF Treaty, so they threaten to withdraw from something we value. Would they actually do it? They didn’t in 2001, when we pulled out of the ABM Treaty, but who knows what they’d do this time….

  7. Andy (History)

    The Commander of Russian Missile forces said today:

    “If the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic take such a step … the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of targeting these facilities if a relevant decision is made,”

    From: http://www.military.com/NewsContent/0,13319,125839,00.html?ESRC=topstories.RSS

  8. Chuck

    “MOSCOW. Feb 22 (Interfax) – U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said he does not see any links between Russia’s possible withdrawal from the treaty on the elimination of intermediate-and shorter-range missiles (INF Treaty) and Washington’s plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.”

    Do you think the Russians will buy this?