‘Russia is a Predictable Power’ Says Federation Ambassador Antonov
WASHINGTON — Since the end of the Cold War, the relationship between the United States and Russia has been complicated, often described more as competitive and conflicting than cooperative. Yet a new administration in the U.S. could bring a fresh opportunity to balance some elements of the alliance.
The Brookings Institution hosted Russian Federation Ambassador Anatoly Antonov for a think tank conversation on U.S.-Russian converging interests under a Biden administration, which largely became a discussion of nuclear arms control.
“Our proposals have never taken the form of ultimatums but always been invitations to a dialogue,” said Antonov, stressing that the strategic stability of arms control was predicated on the two nation’s enshrined bilateral relationship that needed to be reinforced not only by a treaty extension but also updated terms.
After 11 years, what many consider the gold standard of arms control agreements, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), is set to expire on February 5, 2021. With the recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the Open Skies Treaty, New START is the only remaining agreement limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.
While it is nearing the end of a one-year extension, Antonov’s preference would be a further extension of a five-year term with some additional conditions on the part of Russia, including freezing nuclear warheads for the entire term and a moratorium on INF missiles among other ideas.
“We have never made a secret of our desire to make a New START. We need time to work out new agreements that would address new threats that have emerged in recent years,” he said. “Maintaining strategic stability enhances every country’s security. Our country needs New START as much as the U.S. does.”
While experts agree Biden would likely agree to extend New START, his administration may also seek to negotiate further nuclear arms cuts.
But Antonov contends that “Washington should not wish for additional conditions… New START has confirmed its key role in security and mutual trust. [It] signals to the world that our two countries are serious about global peace and security… [and] provides the necessary level of security and predictability.”
“Russia is a predictable power,” he said. “Under no circumstances are we going to start an arms race.”
Instead of imposing additional restrictions on arms, he suggested that the parties look at specific measures to find an appropriate balance. Missile defense, global strike systems, and future space systems are all issues of concern for Russia.
“We have to build equality… or give up and submit to one state… We do not support the idea of creating so-called islands of stability,” Antonov said.
“We have to identify what should be the focus of future negotiations. The next round of negotiations will be very difficult,” he admitted. “Frankly, I don’t understand why the current administration decided to [forget] transportation systems. The next treaty should consist of ceilings or arrangements concerning delivery systems or warheads.”
“We have time [for an extension]. We can get it done very quickly. If anyone can call me now from the White Home or State Department, I’m ready to come,” Antonov half-joked.
He also said that he would prefer to negotiate without the mass media.
“Today, there are a lot of debates about better formats, and engaging England and France to
open [the treaty] to multilateral dialogue. But forcing anyone to participate is a counterproductive approach,” he said, recalling President Trump’s insistence that China join.
“We are open [to a different format]. We understand that the U.S. would like to involve China. At this juncture, [we believe] Chinese colleagues are not happy with the invitation and would like to reject it. China is not ready to become a partner.”
“We would like to have pragmatic friendly relations with the U.S.,” Antonov said, and despite recent U.S. actions like expelling diplomats, ramping up sanctions, and approving the sale of weapons to Ukraine, “we are still in a good mood and still in favor to develop relations.”
He believes Russia and the United States can erect a base of cooperation on five elements: arms control, nonproliferation, space, the fight against terrorism, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are doomed for collaboration; the whole world depends on us working together,” Antonov said. “Our approaches to potential agreements may be different, but [the idea of] maintaining peace is what we share.”
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