Oral History of Nuclear Nonproliferation: Voices from Russia

Unfortunately, the tradition of writing political memoirs has not taken root in Russia. As a rule, diplomats and those working for other foreign policy agencies do not leave written memories of the events they witnessed after retirement. Much of what they could share is “not put on paper,” which means that sooner or later this information will be lost.

Memories of the older generation of disarmament specialists make a significant contribution to preserving the continuity of the traditions of Russian diplomacy and foreign policy. As Russia’s leading think tank in the field of international security, PIR Center strives to make its best contribution not only to overcoming current security challenges for Russia and the world, but also to preserving historically reliable information about past successes and failures.

Created in 2021, PIR Center’s project ” Oral History of Nuclear Nonproliferation: Voices from Russia” seeks to preserve the historical memory of the role of Russia and Russian diplomats in shaping the modern international security architecture. Project activities are mainly concentrated in three fields:

  1. organization of scholarly and practice-oriented events (workshops, conferences, brainstorming sessions) on historical topics featuring Russian and foreign diplomats, military figures and researchers;
  2. interviews with Russian veterans of military and diplomatic service, who have made an invaluable contribution to key treaties and agreements in the field of nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament;
  3. preparation of research papers and blog posts discussing the historical dimension of nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament.

Expert Seminars

On February 24, 2021, PIR Center held an informal midweek brainstorming session dedicated to the open reports of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service on WMD nonproliferation and NPT extension published in 1993 and 1995. Alexander Fedorov from PIR Center’s Advisory Board delivered a presentation, whereas PIR Center’s interns asked questions and participated in a lively discussion.

On August 19, 2021, PIR Center organized a webinar “Putsch. Orlov. Eyewitness. 3 days and 2 nights at the White House. 30 years later.” During the event, PIR Center’s Founder & Director Vladimir Orlov shared his memories of the events of August 19-21, 1991, during which he was in Russia’s White House as a correspondent for the Moscow News newspaper. As is widely known, it is after the August events that the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) followed, leading to large-scale reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons.

On December 23, 2021, PIR Center held an online expert workshop “30 Years After Russia Acquired the Soviet Nuclear Arsenal.” Leading researchers and practitioners from Russia, the U.S., Kazakhstan and Ukraine discussed together how political leaders and diplomats managed to avert acts of nuclear nonproliferation during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The speakers included Pavel Palazhchenko, Head of the International Department of the Gorbachev Foundation, chief English interpreter for Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze in 1985-1991; Amb. Yuri Nazarkin, Professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Head of the Russian delegation at the negotiations on the nuclear disarmament of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in 1992; Rose Gottemoeller, Steven C. Házy Lecturer at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, NSC’s  director for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Affairs in 1993-1994; Alexey Obukhov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR in 1990-1991.

Timerbaev Debate

Since 2020, PIR Center has been holding the annual Timerbaev Debate in memory of Roland Timerbaev, an outstanding Russian diplomat, one of the drafters of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Debate covers such topics as nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and strategic stability, as well as Russian-American strategic relations. The working language is English; the Debate brings together young professionals from Russia, the United States and other countries who are ready to contribute to discussions on strategic issues, come up with new ideas and approaches to strengthening global security. Leading Russian and foreign experts in the field of international security serve as moderators.

Interview Series

The project’s central objective for 2022 is to conduct oral history interviews with Russia’s senior specialists in arms control, disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation issues, including veterans of the Russian Foreign Ministry, military experts and nuclear scientists.

Our interviewees participated in CTBT, SORT, START negotiations, attended NPT Review Conferences, co-authored public reports by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service on nuclear nonproliferation issues, including former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR Alexey Obukhov, former Head of the International Cooperation Department of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency of the Russian Federation Vladimir Kuchinov, former First Deputy Chief of the Main Staff of the Strategic Rocket Forces Vasily Lata, etc.

The recordings are available to the public and a valuable resource for young international relations experts, diplomats, nonproliferation and arms control researchers.

Information and Publication Activities

PIR Center deals with historical topics in publications of various kinds – ranging from blogs to articles, reports and books. Memorial sections about Roland Timerbaev, Gennady Evstafiev and Fedor Ladygin have been created and are continuously maintained. In 2021, PIR Center established the Evstafiev Series, which is a series of research and practice-oriented publications by young authors from Russia and abroad in the field of international security – primarily by graduate students. Since 2021, PIR Center awards the Evstafiev Prize to praise the authors of outstanding papers from the series.

PIR Center continues working on the Timerbaev Archive. We annually commemorate Roland Timerbaev’s Memorial Day on August 21. In 2022, we will prepare and publish a collection of the most important papers authored by him. In 2023, PIR Center will present a book of the PIR Library series to mark Gennady Evstafiev’s 85th anniversary.

Feedback on the Project

A fundamentally valuable element of the project is its target audience – representatives of specialized universities, not only in Russia, but also in the post-Soviet states, as well as in the US and European countries. It is important that PIR Center intends to use its project to give young professionals from these countries the opportunity to get acquainted with the views of Russian diplomats on the history of nonproliferation and arms control.

Sergey Ryabkov
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia

I am very glad that I have the opportunity to hear the results of the discussion that is taking place today.

Rose Gottemoeller
Honorary Lecturer at Stanford University, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO and Deputy Secretary of State of the United States

For questions related to the project “Nuclear Nonproliferation: History in Faces”, you can contact Alexandra Zubenko, Junior Research Fellow of the Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation Program at +7 (909) 759-65-66 or by e-mail zubenko@pircenter.org.