Chapter 3. Scenes from Nonproliferation: Disengagement and Signaling in Russian Policy

April 15, 2024

By 2023, Moscow’s doctrinal optics of nuclear issues have changed drastically. Russia’s nuclear nonproliferation policy has become more assertive than in the era preceding the Special Military Operation in Ukraine. Nonproliferation and arms control are no longer compartmentalized from the overall geopolitical environment. Instead, they have become yet another chessboard in the multi-layered conflict between Russia and the West, falling prey to the foreign policy gambits played out by both opponents.

There is no longer a silk thread connecting Moscow and Washington, as the long-time Soviet foreign minister Andrey Gromyko once put it[1]. Previous patterns of cooperation stemmed from common understanding of threats posed by proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union and the United States were indispensable partners in this regard since mutual acquiescence to the proposed rules of the game was essential[2].

Currently, with the nuclear order well established, the perils of proliferation are overshadowed by the acute military-political confrontation between Russia and the West, which both sides regard fateful. Washington openly declared Russia’s strategic defeat as its priority[3]. Unprecedented economic sanctions were imposed on Russia. In this context, many in Moscow would question any compartmentalized dealings with US and NATO as not serving Russia’s interests.

This feeling is underpinned by the Western lack of compliance with its previous nonproliferation and arms control obligations. US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) in 2002 and from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) in 2018, non-compliance with the New START Treaty provides no grounds whatsoever for mutual trust and confidence, which were essential for maintaining the Soviet-US nonproliferation cooperation in the 1980s – in the crisis of a similar magnitude.

However, the unraveling nonproliferation cooperation in 2014-2022[4] made Moscow believe that any agreement to be reached would not be complied with. That is illustrated by the Russian Foreign Ministry statement on the withdrawal from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty), which reads, the Western countries “have clearly shown their inability to reach and honor agreements. At this point, it is impossible to reach an arms control agreement with them. Only when reality compels them to return to constructive and realistic positions, can a dialogue on these matters be revived as part of the efforts to establish a new European security system that serves the interests of Russia and all other countries that reject Western diktat”[5].

With the dire situation in bilateral relations with the United States, no room is left for nuclear cooperation. In the overall context of international priorities, Russia puts the premium on coercing unfriendly states to accommodate Russian security interests, with the attempts to do so through diplomacy considered mostly exhausted. 

The disengagement from previous undertakings and commitments is viewed as means to signal that it is no more business as usual – even in the area as sensitive as the nuclear one. Indeed, the year of 2023 witnessed a cascade of previously unthinkable developments. In February 2023, Russia officially suspended its participation in the New START Treaty[6]. Then, contrary to its long-standing opposition to the deployment of nuclear weapons beyond national borders, in June 2023, President Putin announced that Russian nonstrategic nuclear assets would be stationed in Belarus[7]. Finally, on November 2, 2023, the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was revoked[8] following President Putin’s remarks at Valdai Discussion Club[9].

The purpose of this chapter is to dissect the factors weighing in on the evolution of the Russia’s stance on nonproliferation and the attempt to explain the philosophy driving it. To this end, the piece seeks to analyze a broader context of Russian nuclear nonproliferation and arms control decision-making with particular attention being given to the security environment along the Russian borders and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Process. Then it delves into two specific examples – those of the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, and the de-ratification of the CTBT. Finally, the author attempts to chart the philosophy of the Russian nuclear nonproliferation policy in a brave new world.

Proliferation: closer than you may think

In the expert discourse, the NPT and the entire nonproliferation regime are treated as a constant that has come to stay, despite the loud reclamations made by individual non-nuclear-weapons states. Always on the brink, always there. Such a benevolent worldview misses out the fact that the nuclear nonproliferation regime is only one of the bulwarks of the global security architecture. As other elements of the global security architecture weaken, the NPT will inevitably be under increasing strain[10]

Another conventional bias in the nonproliferation domain relates to who. Who might become the next nuclear-weapons state? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Another developing nation? Less attention is given to the threat posed by conditional proliferation, i.e., the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology via quasi-legitimate channels: nuclear sharing, submarine partnerships, supply of high-end military technologies with strategic effect.

In 2020-2023, PIR Center carried out a project overviewing the prospects for nuclear proliferation in the medium-term. By looking into capabilities, motivations and constraints, the research team concluded that apart from the challenge posed by the Iranian nuclear program – the most tangible one, South Korea and Japan were moving closer to the nuclearization brink. The reason for that was their declining confidence in the security assurances provided by the US extended deterrence[11]. The case merits special consideration. According to the majority of Western experts and officials, it plays the role of an additional support structure for the nuclear nonproliferation regime, disincentivizing the states under the nuclear umbrella to seek a deterrent of their own. To put it bluntly, US nukes instead of indigenous ones. The birth trauma of the US-centric nonproliferation model is that it freezes proliferation rather than precludes it. The model is based on a non-inclusive security architecture failing to take into account the interests of those on the other side of the nuclear umbrella. 

This is the case with Iran, Russia and China that happened to be on the wrong side of the security dilemma. Under the circumstances, Russia felt the malign breath of the US enhanced presence in the areas of our interest and saw itself forced to react. The enlargement of NATO has been seen by Russia as a de facto proliferation. Dual-capable military infrastructure was moving closer to Russian borders. The assets employed in nuclear sharing (B61 gravity nuclear bombs) were being modernized, thus becoming more precise and, hypothetically, more usable. 

While several states in the proximity of Russian borders have capabilities, both already existing and potential, to develop nuclear weapons, of particular concern for the Russian Federation are those forming part of unfriendly alliances. 

Major military dangers considered by the Military Doctrine of the Union State of Belarus and Russia the States-Parties:

  • Build-up of the military potential of individual States (coalitions of States) […] expansion of military-political unions to the borders of participating States or their assignment of global functions;
  • The refusal of certain States to participate in international arms control treaties, creating conditions for the unlimited concentration of troops, armaments, military and special equipment on the territories of States contiguous to the Union State;
  • Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as the intentions of the leadership of other States to place weapons of mass destruction and their components or to create the capacity to produce such weapons on the territories of States contiguous to the Union State. 

Source: Union State Legal Portal (

In this regard, one can find that Russia is facing two groups of proliferation threats both in the European and Asia-Pacific theatres. Firstly, the one posed by NATO nuclear sharing and the deployment of dual-use infrastructure in the close neighborhood. That includes the stationing of missile defense systems and INF-class missiles in Eastern Europe. In the medium term, the threat will be exacerbated by the possibility of the US nuclear weapons stationing in Poland and Ukraine’s participation, in whatever form, in NATO military activities. Secondly, the so-called conditional proliferation in the Asia-Pacific region. Instead of seeking inclusive security solutions, the United States seems to supply sensitive nuclear technologies to allies in exchange for unconditional loyalty to their anti-Chinese efforts. A commonplace example is the AUKUS nuclear submarine partnership, under which Australia is supposed to acquire conventionally armed nuclear submarines by early 2040s. 

A relatively less prominent case in Russian policy-making discourse is the enhancement of the US extended deterrence under the Washington Declaration announced by the US and Republic of Korea (ROK) on April 26, 2023[12]. The document provides for the establishment of a Nuclear Consultative Group, enhanced US nuclear submarines presence in the region, joint execution and planning for ROK participation in the US nuclear operations, and “regular visibility of US assets to the Korean peninsula”[13] (i.e., nuclear submarines visits to the South Korean ports – Author’s Note). While the afore-cited measures are designed primarily to dissuade China and North Korea, they have strong implications for the security of the Russian Far East.

The contours of the further development are evidenced by a recent RAND Corporation[14] report. Among the recommendation drafted by the American and South Korean think tanks close to the defense establishments of their respective countries are:

  • shifting the focus of conflict planning […] to conventional-nuclear force integration;
  • establish ROK and US nuclear weapon employment guidelines, conduct regular tabletop exercises, and seek ROK and US National Command Authority approval of the guidelines;
  • committing some US nuclear weapons to support ROK security[15] (including possible deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons on the ROK soil – Author’s Note).

At multilateral level, the proliferation significance of these developments is downplayed by Washington, Canberra, London, and Seoul. Australia and South Korea are credited with being nonproliferation champions notwithstanding their past covert nuclear programs and discrepancies in the complying with the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)[16]. In January 2023, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol openly discussed acquiring nuclear weapons as a policy option to defend against North Korea[17]. As the former head of the arms control bureau at the Israeli Ministry of Defense Ariel Levite maintains in his article for Arms Control Today, “the nonproliferation commitments […] reflect inherently reversible […] policy choices. This is disconcerting because a future government […] may opt to walk them back with the same ease and speed that the previous government reversed the earlier contract to acquire French diesel electric submarines […]”[18].

NPT is still working, NPT review process is not

One may frequently encounter an opinion that the NPT is in crisis since two consecutive review conferences (RevCons), in 2015 and in 2022, failed to produce a consensus final document. While the absence of an agreed outcome evidences the depth of controversies within the Treaty, nonproliferation still functions round the clock. Its practical implementation implies export control, IAEA safeguards and the Agency’s efforts to promote peaceful use of nuclear energy. Although non-nuclear-weapons states maintain that nuclear disarmament pillar lags behind, evidently, the issue is not only up to the NPT review process to tackle.

There is an important caveat, though. NPT review process is not about nonproliferation per se. It is a bureaucratic nonproliferation wonderland, which objective is to seek political and diplomatic balance in the implementation of the NPT, or the balance between the interests of nuclear and non-nuclear-weapons nations, between the three pillars of the NPT, between the review of the past activities and the reflections oriented towards the future. We argue that the so-called crisis in nonproliferation is rather a failure of the RevCon crooked mirrors to bring balance in the discussion. Regrettably, deepening international security divergencies find their way into NPT discussion, providing more obstacles to the pursuit of consensus. In brief, those obstacles may be summarized as two tendencies.

Firstly, politicization. The NPT review process is not the UN General Assembly to ventilate whatever concerns one has – it should be focused exclusively on nuclear matters, preferably without bringing additional apples of discord on the agenda. Instead, some states deliberately introduce spinous and sometimes extraneous items to be discussed at the venue. In 2018, the EU and the US representatives brought up the issues of Syrian chemical dossier and the so-called Skripal Case, which was rebuffed by the Russian delegation. In 2022, Russia saw itself obliged to block the outcome document as containing unacceptable provisions on Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), which the United States and its allies were well aware of. Notably, explaining its decision to block the adoption of a final document in 2015, the US official also argued that their red lines were well known to Russia and the group of Arab states. Finally, in 2023, the recommendations of the preparatory committee (PrepCom) chair were excluded as imbalanced on Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rhetorically, this may be summarized as Kiev regime vs nonproliferation regime case.

Secondly, polarization – both within the entire NPT community and appropriate groupings. The division line between nuclear and non-nuclear-weapons states is deepening. The consolidation of prompt nuclear disarmament advocates under the umbrella of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and the humanitarian initiative makes it more difficult to agree upon a realistic Article VI-related agenda. In comparison with 2015, non-nuclear-weapons states stances on nuclear disarmament have become more radicalized. The process culminated in the negotiations and opening to the signature of TPNW. The threat posed by the ban treaty bridges the gap between the haves and have-nots in the NPT review process. In the longer term, it may undermine the NPT regime by encouraging non-nuclear-weapons states to withdraw from the NPT[19].

Even more so, the Nuclear Five (P5) is divided. The latest joint statement on behalf of the five official nuclear powers was made in December 2021. Low-profile P5 consultations continue as a platform to express their concerns without going deep into detailed discussions. Moreover, though initially created to foster the search for consensus within the NPT, currently this format gives little attention to NPT review process as such, with the Western troika – Great Britain, France, and the US – being interested exclusively in de-conflicting, doctrines and transparency measures. 

Objectively, one could not ignore the fact that a number of key stakeholders in the NPT review process, both nuclear and non-nuclear-weapons-states imposed severe sanctions on Russia and are regarded by Russia as unfriendly states. Building partnerships with those who seek economic constriction of Russia is hardly imaginable. The United States neither shows great interest in a full-fledged functioning of the P5, denying visas to Russian diplomats set to take part in the P5 meetings.

After the launch of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine in 2022, the divisive nature of American-style nonproliferation has become particularly clear. There are obvious attempts to portray Russia as a nuclear nonproliferation scarecrow, to boil the entire set of nuclear problems down to the Kremlin’s sins. This is what led to the ignominious failure of the 10th NPT Review Conference, which was held in August 2022. If not duly addressed, it might derail the entire 2023-2026 NPT review cycle. 

All in all, there is currently no viable grouping within the NPT framework, which could both put forward new ideas – mostly, of limited use – for the ways to ameliorate the environment within the NPT and also bridge the differences between various blocks. In 2000, the New Agenda Coalition used to be such a force. It is no longer. The Non-Aligned Movement, which in 2023, while being more proactive, sharply criticized the nuclear sharing practice, turns out to be not cohesive enough. The Stockholm Initiative is somewhat tilted towards the West, and as of this writing, it is not apparent if this bias could be changed. Russian allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) tend to adhere to passive standing, although informal consultations are conducted. In this regard, Kazakhstan’s presidency of the 2024 PrepCom holds promise[20]. Astana is both Russian ally and party to the TPNW, which make it well positioned to bridge the differences in the NPT. The rest depends on the ability of the Kazakhstani diplomacy to make use of this opportunity.

Not so peaceful uses

The announcement of the deployment of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Belarus was made by President Vladimir Putin on June 9, 2023. Officially, the decision was driven by the supplies of depleted-uranium shells to Ukraine from its Western sponsors. Rather, it was a pretext. The real reason is NATO nuclear sharing. Since 2014, Moscow has characterized the practice as unacceptable and incompatible with Articles I and II of the NPT. On numerous occasions Russian diplomats reiterated that no agreement on the matter had been reached during the NPT negotiations in 1960s. Indeed, available evidence suggests that there was a tacit agreement to disagree[21]. Seemingly, the prospect of the deployment of nuclear weapons in Poland only added fuel to the discontent.

The topic of nuclear weapons stationing was not entirely new in the Russian-Belarussian relations. In 2021, Alexander Lukashenko, the President of the Republic of Belarus, signaled his readiness to deploy nuclear weapons on the Belarussian soil if Poland became part of NATO nuclear sharing. “In this case, I will propose Putin to redeploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. […] We will agree upon the specifics. [We will deploy] those systems which are most effective in such engagements. In Belarus, we are ready for that. As a sound steward, I did not destroy anything. All barns (nuclear weapons storage facilities – Author’s Note) are still in place”, he said in an interview to the Rossiya Segodnya media group in November 2021[22].

The motion was supported by the then foreign minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei. According to Artem Shraibman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace[23], it was Makei’s idea to eliminate antinuclear clauses from the national constitution[24]. Previously, the country’s carta magna provided that Belarus sought to make its territory free of nuclear weapons and be a neutral state. Officially, the proposal to revoke the paragraph was introduced in December 2021[25]. The revised version of the Constitution was adopted through a referendum, which took place on February 27, 2022[26].

The details of the working-level negotiations on the issue remain unknown. Nevertheless, President Putin supported the idea, given the hostile security environment along the borders of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. As a first step in this direction, Russia initiated relevant upgrades of Belarussian Su-25 fighter jets, appropriate training of Belarussian pilots and the deployment of dual-capable Iskander-M missiles in Belarus. 

“Indeed, the Americans have 200 tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Two hundred of them are in six European countries, members of NATO, the North Atlantic bloc. To use these weapons, 257 planes have been prepared – and they are not only US planes but also of those countries I mentioned. I totally agree with you that we must take care of our unconditional security, the security of the Union State and maybe even that of the other CSTO member countries. Therefore, I suggest the following. The Belarusian Army has a fairly big number of Su-25 planes. They can be respectively reequipped. This upgrade must be done at aviation plants in Russia, but we will decide how to do that. And to begin training of aircrews. This is number one. And second. As we had agreed on the issue you raised, a decision was made in our country: within the next several months, we will transfer to Belarus the Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which are known to use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both conventional and nuclear”. 

President of Russia Vladimir Putin at his meeting
with the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko

June 25, 2022 
Source: Official Website of the Russian President

Legal arrangements for the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus were made in May 2023. On May 25, 2023, the two countries’ defense ministers Sergey Shoigu and Viktor Khrenov signed the documents regulating the particularities of Russian nuclear weapons storage. According to the head of the Russian military department, the documents were in line with international legal obligations[27]. First nuclear warheads were delivered to Belarus in June 2023, the process was planned to be completed by the end of 2023[28]

The collective West heavily criticized the move. The US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller characterized it as “the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion (the launch of Special Military Operation in Ukraine – Author’s Note) of Ukraine over a year ago”[29]. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg denounced Moscow’s rhetoric as dangerous and reckless but acknowledged that the alliance did not see any change in Russia’s nuclear posture[30].

The topic was brought up on numerous occasions during the 2022 NPT Review Conference and the 2023 NPT PrepCom. As may be noted from the exchanges, NATO nuclear sharing has indeed become an irritant for the international community. The Russian delegation presented a detailed outline of the differences and reasons prompting it to mirror some of the nuclear sharing practices.

In the light of the growing rift between Moscow and the West and, particularly, Special Military Operation in Ukraine, NATO nuclear sharing has come to be viewed as a real and palpable threat to Russia’s security, which needs to be addressed by military and technical means.

Map 2. US Nuclear Weapons in Europe.
© Compiled by PIR Center based on open sources

Indeed, US nuclear weapons were deployed thousand miles away from the US territory and were capable of hitting many Russian and Belarussian inland targets. Moreover, the United Stated continued the modernization of nuclear sharing infrastructure in Europe, pursuing the objective to deploy advanced B61-12 gravity bombs and finance the modernization of nuclear weapons storage facilities in the United Kingdom. That, in its turn, signaled the readiness to redeploy nuclear weapons on the British soil[31].

“The factor of NATO nuclear sharing acquired particular relevance in the current environment, when Russia has to bear in mind […] the Western policy aimed at the strategic defeat of Russia, which balances on the brink of direct military confrontation between nuclear powers. Our closest allies in Belarus face increasing military-political pressure exerted by the United States and NATO, including countries in direct proximity of its borders. Some of them have long and in open manner sought the deployment of nuclear weapons on its territory. We have been exercising restraint for years. For years we have been convincing Washington to follow our suit and withdraw nuclear weapons to its territory. To no avail, so we were forced to act in a different manner”. 

Statement by the Deputy Head of the Russian delegation Konstantin Vorontsov
at the 2023 United Nations General Assembly First Committee session
October 5, 2023
(Unofficial translation)
Source: Russian Foreign Ministry (

Russia points out that the measures adopted by the two countries are retaliatory and deterrent in nature and are incommensurate with the scale of NATO nuclear sharing, The deployment is being realized within the common defense space of two brotherly nations forming the Union State. The reconsideration of the decision jointly made by Moscow and Minsk is completely unrealistic unless US and NATO abandon their malign course to undermine Russia’s security and nuclear weapons are withdrawn from Europe back to the United States along with the destruction of relevant infrastructure[32]. Currently, there is no indication of such willingness. After President Putin’s announcement about Belarus, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki repeated the intention to become a host state for US nuclear weapons. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda brought up this hosting option last year, but initially the idea was floated in 2020 by Poland’s ambassador to the United States[33].

CTBT: on equal footing?

In his Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on February 21, 2023, President Putin cited the information available on the US plans to resume nuclear tests. “We are aware of the fact that certain types of US nuclear weapons are reaching the end of their service life. In this regard, we know for certain that some politicians in Washington are already pondering live nuclear tests, especially since the United States is developing innovative nuclear weapons. There is information to that effect”, he elaborated[34]. Given the circumstances, President Putin ordered the Defense Ministry and the Rosatom State Corporation to make everything ready for Russia to conduct nuclear tests.

“We will not be the first to proceed with these tests, but if the United States goes ahead with them, we will as well. No one should harbour dangerous illusions that global strategic parity can be disrupted”.  

President of Russia Vladimir Putin
at his Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly

February 21, 2023
Source: Official Website of the Russian President

Through to October 2023 no further official steps had been made to this end. However, on numerous occasions did the Russian Foreign Ministry reaffirm its long-time stance that Moscow was committed to CTBT and criticized Washington for its decision not to submit the Treaty to the Senate for ratification[35]. However, there were unofficial indications that the discussion on the fate of the CTBT was underway in Moscow. For instance, in August 2023 Kommersant Daily, one of the most authoritative Russian newspapers, reported that the agencies concerned were discussing the feasibility of revoking CTBT ratification.

At the time, the matter was portrayed as needing further analysis[36]. In the Russian expert discussion, the most revealing comments were made by the Dr. Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP). Making his case for the use of nuclear weapons to deter the collective West, he called for withdrawal from CTBT and for conducting a demonstration nuclear test as an intermediate step to that effect. He also called Russian Foreign Ministry’s adherence to CTBT a relapse of the passive defense policy which did no good, but only constrained us[37]

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Milestones.
© Compiled by PIR Center based on open sources

An official announcement of the decision to de-ratify the Treaty was made by President Putin at Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi in October 2023. While noting that, in his view, there was no need for changing Russian nuclear doctrine, he supported tit-for-tat approach vis-à-vis CTBT. 

“I am not ready to tell you right now whether we need or do not need to carry out these tests. What we can do is act just as the United States does. Let me repeat one more time that the United States signed the Treaty without ratifying it, while we both signed and ratified it. As a matter of principle, we can offer a tit-for-tat response in our relations with the United States. But this falls within the purview of the Russian State Duma members. In theory, we can withdraw the ratification, and if we do, this would be enough”. 

Vladimir Putin Meets with Members of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Transcript of the Plenary Session of the 20th Annual Meeting

October 5, 2023
Source: Valdai Discussion Club

The Russian State Duma, as was the case both with the ratification of the New START Treaty extension and its suspension, did not spare time. By October 12, 2023, the International Affairs Committee of the State Duma had already prepared draft law revoking the CTBT ratification[38]. The motion was endorsed by a record number of legislators – 439 out of 450 members of the Duma[39]. The de-ratification process was completed on November 2, 2023.

The logic of the decision to de-ratify the Treaty is political rather than military or technical. As the head of the Russian delegations at the CTBT talks in 1990s Ambassador Grigory Berdennikov notes, there is just no need for resuming nuclear tests[40]. Although the Treaty had not entered into force, keeping it ratified on the Russian side was considered undesirable since the United States did nothing to follow suit.

Nonproliferation in a new brave world

The aforementioned episodes serve as an illustration of the depth of change in the Russian approaches to nonproliferation and arms control issues.

First and foremost, this area is no longer viewed as compartmentalized from other foreign policy issues. Moscow’s threat perception has evolved. Previously, the premium has been put on ensuring national security though the enhancement of the multilateral international security architecture, including NPT, CTBT, ABM Treaty (until 2002), and the INF Treaty (until 2017). That premise gave rise to numerous cases of cooperation with the West on the nonproliferation dossier, the examples being Iran, denuclearization of Ukraine, the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, etc.

The perception in Moscow is that its attempts to play fair were to no avail. To a greater extent, it has to do with the NATO enlargement and what is seen as a general lack of compliance with international obligations rather than exclusively nuclear matters. 

“The total inability to reach and honor agreements has become the hallmark of the collective West. Accustomed as they are to looking down at the rest of the world in a leader-follower relationship, the Americans and their Western satellite nations make commitments left and right. Some of them are made in writing and are legally binding, but they disregard them anyway”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
October 10, 2023
Source: Russian Foreign Ministry (

Indeed, in terms of arms control and nonproliferation, the winter of our discontent with the Western behavior has settled in Moscow. One of the cases in point is the JCPOA and the general situation around the Iranian nuclear and missile programs. During the Donald Trump administration (2017-2021), the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal under a falsified pretext. The E3 failed to uphold the deal, with the INSTEX mechanism never fully used. When the Joe Biden administration (2021-present) came to power, there was some room for hope. Still, after the 2022 unrest in Iran, Washington and its European satellites preferred to link the deal to their broader agendas in the region. The talks over the almost agreed text on the restoration of its full-fledged functioning stalled. 

Open non-compliance with its international obligations by the United States overlaps with the sense of dissatisfaction with the military and political status quo. As a result of what is now perceived as naivety of the Russian foreign policy, NATO military infrastructure has come in close proximity to the Russian borders. Together with the lack of response to Moscow’s previous political and diplomatic initiative, that created an impression that if its security concerns were not addressed at that juncture, Russia’s long-term interests would be put in jeopardy. In a common worldview the Russian leadership was simply pushed towards a more direct, assertive, and forceful posturing. That is reflected in the 2023 updated Russian Foreign Policy Concept. In its nonproliferation and arms control section, the document prioritizes strategic deterrence over maintaining international nonproliferation regimes[41].

The last attempt to agree on the new rules of the game was made when the proposal on the security assurances was put onto the table in 2021. Its detailed description as well as a thorough analysis of the feasibility of the negotiation tactics adopted by Russia go beyond the scope of this chapter. The key takeaway of relevance for the purposes of this research is that based on the previous experience of dealing with the West, the Russian leadership judged that its stance had to be fortified with the use of force in such a matter of principle as Ukraine.
Its current decision-making process, including on nonproliferation and arms control, is greatly influenced by the ongoing conflict with the West. Previous concerns about nuclear proliferation in Eurasia, came to be overshadowed by a conventional threat posed by Kiev and its sponsors. Accordingly, there are no longer any grounds whatsoever to compartmentalize nuclear matters just because it was the case previously.

“Now US officials talk of so-called compartmentalization, i.e., of their readiness to negotiate on arms control regardless of what is happening in Ukraine and around as well as of in the relations between Russia and the West in general. At the same time, they put this idea – à propos, voiced through megaphones – in a rather, as they see it, attractive cover. But even a superficial look onto this cover suffices to discover the message Washington does not care much to hide: the United States seeks to impose through strength such arms control schemes, which would be limited to nuclear aspects, solidifying American dominance in every military domain. The compartmentalization as such is designed to ensure that Washington still has the opportunity to further the limits of possible as part of complex efforts of the United States to undermine our national security. In these circumstances the key question – to what extent the American side is ready to accommodate our interests – remains unanswered. More precisely, there is an answer, but it is clearly negative. In this regard, unless Washington and the West in general reconsider their aggressive anti-Russian policies implemented on our doorsteps, fruitful negotiations on arms control are hardly imaginable”. 

Keynote speech of the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov
 at PIR Center’s International School on Global Security

June 20, 2023
Source: PIR Center (

The range of subjects for cooperation in the nonproliferation domain has also shrunk. Those matters which are of interest for Russian geopolitical opponents – Syria, Iran, North Korea, IAEA safeguards – are not of relevance for Russia. Why engage in any discussions whatsoever concerning the countries that have become of more and more importance as partners in forming a new multipolar world? Of proliferation relevance are, in contrast, those countries that have long been the US partners: Poland, South Korea, Japan, Australia. The conditional proliferation strategy pursued by Washington towards these nations is a concern both for Russia – and those countries which have been previously considered a proliferation threat. These states are not most affected by the US efforts to form new security alliances in their respective regions, which lays the ground for deepening security cooperation with China, Iran, Belarus, and others. For instance, the militarization of Japan, the declared upgrade of the US-Republic of Korea partnership to a nuclear status, growing US military presence in the Asia-Pacific are a backdrop for the intensification of contacts between Moscow and Pyongyang. The 2023 September visit paid by the DPRK leader Kim Jong Un to Russia should be viewed through this lens[42].

Conclusions: does Russia need nonproliferation?

The chapter intends to provide a limited insight into Russia’s thinking on nuclear matters and nonproliferation in particular. The magnitude of change, which has taken place over the last two years, is evident. Russia has become more assertive and less inclined to stick to international instruments and practices inherited from previous epochs just because. Its current objective – is to deter the collective West from further escalation. To this end, Russia is climbing though another escalation ladder – CTBT, New START Treaty are indeed used to send deterring signals to Washington.

If those agreements are seen as of no independent value, the question is – does Russia still need proliferation? The answer is positive. Despite all the peculiarities of our era, Russia is not interested in the emergence of new nuclear weapons states. Russia is interested in keeping the international security architecture, which NPT, CTBT are a substantial part of. Therefore, the measures taken are tailored not to cause irreparable damage to the international regimes of nonproliferation. The measures taken are retaliatory and reversible, should the United States change its course.

The difference for the time being is that the nonproliferation machinery is of less value than it used to be. The NPT review conferences which ended without a final document have never been a catastrophe in Russian optics. Less so now. The difference is that Russia will not budge an inch for an abstract nonproliferation in the form of political recommendations or whatsoever.

The nonproliferation Russia seeks is the real one and should take our interest into account. Until this nonproliferation of tomorrow is built (or, rather, restored), Russia will continue to send appropriate signals aimed at deterring its opponents. In the realpolitik logic, multilateral diplomacy has little potential to improve its security. The transition to a new, more just international security architecture will inevitably be associated with an increasing conflict and diffusion of military and technical capabilities. From the point of view of Russia’s interests for the next five to 20 years to come, it is important to conclude the following.

Firstly, a desirable image of the future (however much this cliché may disgust some people) capable of creating a circle of like-minded nations around our interests in shaping the military-political aspects of the future world order. The formulaic criticism of a rules-based world order, references to the UN Charter and to another world order are not enough. A new concept is needed.

Secondly, the limits of transition risks. The diffusion of military and technical potentials is inevitable. It can be turned in its favor by strengthening military and technical cooperation with the states that face security threats, including those discussed in this study. But are we prepared for the emergence of another one or two nuclear-armed states? Does Russia need to safeguard nonproliferation at all costs and, if necessary, engage in another round of the US-Russian cooperation on the Iranian or, say, North Korean dossier? This question requires careful thought.

Russia’s role now is to help build a new security architecture with a minimum number of dividing lines in regions where the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are particularly high. In this context, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may be in demand. Its creation will require Russia and China to make concessions and voluntarily agree to limitations. Only a willingness to self-restraint, supported by transparency and confidence-building measures, will convince our neighbors and partners that Moscow and Beijing are serious about their intentions. Such self-restraint is especially important for China’s neighbors, who are wary of its growing global ambitions.

[1] In the early 1980s, during the US-Soviet crisis caused by the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan and plans of SS-20 and Pershing II deployment, Soviet foreign minister Andrey Gromyko told his close associates that nuclear nonproliferation was the only silk thread connecting the two superpowers at that time. See: Orlov V., Timerbaev R., and Khlopkov A. Nuclear Nonproliferation in US-Russian Relations: Challenges and Opportunities. PIR Center, 2002. URL:

[2] Orlov V., Semenov S. Conclusions to the Monograph / Russia-US Nuclear Nonproliferation Dialogue: Lessons Learned and Road Ahead. Edited by Sergey Semenov, Vladimir Orlov // Ves Mir Publishing House, 2021. P. 503. URL:

[3] See: Western Allies Ramp Up Rhetoric against Russia, Want “Defeat” of Moscow // POLITICO, May 20, 2022. URL:

[4] Semenov S. Dialogue on Nuclear nonproliferation under Trump Administration / Russia-US Nuclear Nonproliferation Dialogue: Lessons Learned and Road Ahead. Edited by Sergey Semenov, Vladimir Orlov // Ves Mir Publishing House, 2021. Pp. 470-501. URL:

[5] Foreign Ministry Statement on the Completion of the Procedure for the Russian Federation’s Withdrawal from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) // Russian Foreign Ministry, November 7, 2023. URL:,will%20be%20taken%20into%20account.

[6] Putin: Russia Suspends Participation in Last Remaining Nuclear Treaty with US // Reuters, February 21, 2023. URL:,two%20sides’%20strategic%20nuclear%20arsenals.

[7] Putin Says Russia Put Nuclear Bombs in Belarus as Warning to West // Reuters, June 16, 2023.

[8] Путин подписал закон о дератификации ДВЗЯИ // Известия, 2 ноября 2023 г. URL:

[9] Russia to Reverse Nuclear Test Ban Pact Ratification, Envoy Says // Reuters, October 6, 2023.

[10] See: Новая ядерная девятка? Оценка угроз распространения ядерного оружия в мире. Доклад. Издание 2-е (исправленное и дополненное) / Ред. В.А. Орлов, С.Д. Семенов. М.: ПИР-Пресс, 2023. – 230 с. – (ПИР-Библиотека – книжная серия). URL:

[11] Ibid.

[12] Washington Declaration // The White House Briefing Room, April 26, 2023. URL:

[13] Ibid.

[14] RAND Corporation is included by Russia in the List of foreign and international nongovernmental organizations whose activities are recognized as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation – Editor’s Note.

[15] Bennett B.W. et al. Options for Strengthening ROK Nuclear Assurance // RAND Corporation, November 4, 2023. URL: RAND Corporation is included by Russia in the List of foreign and international nongovernmental organizations whose activities are recognized as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation – Editor’s Note.

[16] See: Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Republic of Korea. Report by the Director General. GOV/2004/84 // IAEA. URL:

[17] Choe Sang-Hun in a First, South Korea Declares Nuclear Weapons a Policy Option // The New York Times, January 12, 2023. URL:,them%20on%20the%20Korean%20Peninsula.

[18] Dalton T., Levite A. AUKUS as a Nonproliferation Standard? // Arm Control Today, July/August 2023. URL:

[19] See: Карнаухова Е. Эрозия режима ядерного нераспространения в условиях трансформации мирового порядка (на примере X Обзорной конференции Договора о нераспространении ядерного оружия) // Пути к миру и безопасности. 2022. № 2 (63). С. 217-233. URL:

[20] Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference – Editor’s Note.

[21] See: Degtyarev N., Semenov S. Nuclear Sharing Arrangements: Military-Technical Aspects and Controversies / Russia-US nuclear Nonproliferation Dialogue: Lessons Learned and Road Ahead // Palgrave Macmillan Singapore, 2022. XXVIII, 385. URL:

[22] Александр Лукашенко: хочу быть создателем этого государства // РИА Новости, 30 ноября 2021 г. URL:

[23] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is included by the Russian Ministry of Justice to the register of foreign agents – Editor’s Note.

[24] По настойчивым просьбам. Что несет Беларуси размещение ядерного оружия // Фонд Карнеги, 27 марта 2023 г. URL: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is included by the Russian Ministry of Justice to the register of foreign agents – Editor’s Note.

[25] Из конституции Белоруссии предложили исключить пункт про нейтралитет и безъядерный статус // ТАСС, 27 декабря 2021 г. URL:

[26] Конституция Республики Беларусь // Официальный сайт Президента Республики Беларусь.

[27] Россия и Белоруссия подписали документы о размещении ядерного оружия // Ведомости, 26 мая 2023 г. URL:

[28] Plenary Session of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum // Official Website of the Russian President, June 16, 2023. URL:

[29] The United States Condemns a Deal Allowing Moscow to Deploy Nuclear Weapons in Belarus // The New York Times, May 25, 2023. URL:

[30] Poland’s Leader Says Russia’s Moving Tactical Nuclear Weapons to Belarus // ABC News, August 22, 2023. URL:

[31] Выступление заместителя руководителя делегации Российской Федерации К.В. Воронцова в порядке права на ответ в ходе общеполитических прений в Первом комитете 78-й сессии ГА ООН, Нью-Йорк // МИД России, 09 октября 2023 г. URL:; US planning to Station Nuclear Weapons in UK amid Threat from Russia – Report // The Guardian, January 26, 2024. URL:

[32] Ibid.

[33] Bombs away: Confronting the Deployment of Nuclear Weapons in Non-Nuclear Weapon Countries / By Moritz Kütt, Pavel Podvig, Zia Mian // The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July 28, 2023.

[34] Presidential Address to Federal Assembly // Official Website of the Russian President, February 21, 2023. URL:

[35] See: Press Release on Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin’s Participation in the 13th Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) // Russian Foreign Ministry, September 22, 2023. URL:; Statement by the Delegation of the Russian Federation at the First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 11th Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Cluster 2: Non-Proliferation and IAEA Safeguards), Vienna, August 2023 // Russian Foreign Ministry, August 7, 2023. URL:

[36] Для ДВЗЯИ пришла пора испытаний // ИД Коммерсантъ, 3 августа 2023 г. URL:

[37] Караганов С. Как не допустить третьей мировой // Россия в глобальной политике, 26 сентября 2023 г. URL:

[38] Володин: В Госдуме подготовили законопроект об отзыве ратификации ДВЗЯИ // Российская газета, 12 октября 2023 г. URL:

[39] Монолит под ключ // ИД Коммерсантъ, 12 октября 2023 г. URL: 

[40] Ядерные испытания: политические и технические причины // Россия в глобальной политике, 4 октября 2023 г.  URL:

[41] The Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, 2023 // Russian Foreign Ministry, March 31, 2023. URL:

[42] Асмолов К. «Саммит на космодроме» – новая ступень сотрудничества Москвы и Пхеньяна // Российский совет по международным делам, 18 сентября 2023 г. URL:

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