*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
Oleg Karpovich, vice-rector of the Russian Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Academy, on how far the United States and the Russian Federation could go to defend their interests
Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia is suspending its participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was undoubtedly the culmination of the address he made to the Federal Assembly the day before. After thoroughly outlining the causes of the Ukrainian crisis and exposing the failure of the West’s plan to deal a “strategic blow” to Moscow, the Russian head of state now made this unexpected move. It clearly disarmed Russia’s geopolitical opponents, as evidenced by Joe Biden’s reluctance to broach the topic in his addled speech in Warsaw.
In the so-called great powers competition, a beloved topic of conversation in Washington, Russia gained an advantage over its opponents, forcing them to swiftly reconsider their approach to waging a hybrid war against Russia. Basically, Russia has gotten ahead of the curve. The West planned to use its Ukrainian proxies to confront Moscow, without raising the stakes to the point where a new cold war hit the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans and Europeans, causing them to question the propriety of the course their leaders had chosen.
Now, the era of double standards and self-deception has come to an end. Once again, our former Western partners will have to come to terms with the risks and consequences of their bravado and short-sightedness, just as they did 60 years ago.
Let us recall how the system of arms control agreements, which includes START III, got its start. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy administration suddenly understood the possible consequences of its foreign policy adventurism and reckless brandishing of nuclear weapons, and it began to take steps to reduce the likelihood of total war. It should be noted that Soviet leaders Georgy Malenkov and Nikita Khrushchev had long before proposed similar measures, but Americans arrogantly chose to ignore such overtures. It was not until America saw missiles deployed on Cuban soil that it came to terms with the precariousness of the positions it had taken.
With the exception of a brief period in the early 1980s, arms control negotiations have continued ever since, almost without interruption. There has been one indisputable truth at the core of these negotiations: a clash between the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Russia would inevitably lead to a global catastrophe with millions of victims on both sides. It was a major accomplishment of global diplomacy that a framework of treaties was designed that reduced nuclear testing, created a nonproliferation regime, limited strategic weapons and firmly established the principle of assured mutual destruction as the key postulate of nuclear deterrence. But will that philosophy be proven relevant at the current moment in history?
Obviously not. For some time now, the United States has considered itself above the obligations it once assumed. By withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, joining its allies in sabotaging the adoption of an adapted Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and consigning the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty to the dustbin of history, Washington has consistently led the way to a new arms race and prepared for a clash with Russia.
The U.S. military has also done everything in its power to circumvent the restrictions imposed by the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, taking advantage of every possible loophole to surreptitiously build up and modernize its the nuclear arsenal. All the while, the U.S. insisted on access to Russian strategic facilities for its inspectors. At the same time, the U.S. has cultivated the concept of a limited nuclear war for several years now, and individual representatives of the Biden administration have stated that the U.S. is prepared for a military confrontation with Russia, all of which attest to the fact that American leaders still expect to put their military resources to work on the battlefield.
Russian leadership, unlike American politicians, soberly assesses all of the risks arising from such nuclear adventurism. Moscow will continue to do everything it can to avoid the worst-case scenario. However, the recklessness of our opponents forces us to accept the truth and take preventive measures. The old concept of arms control has outlived its usefulness. It is possible that we will be able to develop a new multilateral approach to preventing nuclear confrontation in the foreseeable future. But until that day, and as long as Washington’s elites are intoxicated by the myth of their own superiority, we must demonstrate our determination to play by new, stricter rules. By suspending Russia’s participation in START III, Moscow is sending a signal to the West: Russia’s patience is coming to an end.
The world is once again on a dangerous path. Only this time, the responsibility for pursuing it lies entirely with America’s leaders, who clearly did not realize how far we would go to defend our interests.
The author is vice-rector of the Russian Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Academy.