Russia Threatens to Invoke Force Majeure in New START, and Alter its Position on Iran

Boris Mamlyuk, a law professor at the University of Memphis, has written a fascinating piece at the Cambridge Journal of International & Comparative Law blogsite, about the threat expressed by a Russian official to invoke the force majeure clause in the New Start treaty of 2010, to restrict US inspection visits in Russia.  According to Mamlyuk:

The reasons offered by Moscow for the force majeure or countermeasure or reprisal (depending on one’s viewpoint) was the imposition of targeted sanctions by the U.S. against Russian and Ukrainian nationals, and other “unfriendly acts by the U.S. and NATO” with respect to Russia’s Ukraine policy.  As of March 8, 2014, these unfriendly acts presumably include:  (1) U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement on March 6, 2014 to suspend all military-to-military engagements and exercises with Russia; (2) a series of steps U.S. Defense Department will take to reinforce allies in Central and Eastern Europe during this crisis; (3) reinforcement of NATO troops in Poland and presence of a U.S. guided-missile destroyer (USS Truxtun) in the Black Sea.

I hadn’t heard about this threat before, but it does go hand in hand with even more recent threats made by Russian officials, in response to the sanctions imposed by the West against Russia related to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. As of today, these possible retaliatory measures include Russia changing its approach to and positions regarding negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. According to a GSN article today:

A multilateral effort to defuse a nuclear dispute with Iran would take a back seat to Russia’s “reunification” with the Crimean Peninsula, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday. Moscow moved this week to annex the Ukrainian territory, prompting a sanctions backlash from Western participants in the dialogue over concerns that Tehran could tap its civilian atomic capabilities to build nuclear weapons.

“We wouldn’t like to use these talks [to raise] the stakes,” Ryabkov said in a report by Interfax. “But if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well.”

I was talking with a colleague earlier today about what shape these “retaliatory measures” might take in the context of negotiations with Iran. I suppose they might take several forms; from removing Russian support for some of the more aggressive Western negotiating positions (for example relating to PMD and the Arak heavy water reactor), to moving forward with sanctions busting efforts including building two additional reactors at Bushehr, to supplying air-defense weapons including the S-400 system to Iran. Can you think of other measures Russia might take in this context?

If you are one (as I am) that really does want there to be a deal reached between Iran and the West/IAEA concerning Iran’s nuclear program, so that sanctions on Iran can be lifted and relations progressively normalized, this news about Russia potentially changing its approach to the negotiations may be good news or bad news, depending on how far Russia takes it.  If Russia continues to engage meaningfully in the negotiations, and simply tempers even further the most aggressive and unrealistic of the West’s/IAEA’s demands, e.g. regarding PMD, then that could be a good thing, and could help to produce a reasonable agreement that has the potential to endure. However, if Russia changes its position so much that it produces unbridgeable divides among the P5+1, thus making a comprehensive deal with Iran impossible, I think that would be in nobody’s best interests. So, if Russia does choose to express its indignation at Western sanctions, in the context of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, I hope it will do so in a way that is measured to be effective and ultimately helpful.


10 Comments on “Russia Threatens to Invoke Force Majeure in New START, and Alter its Position on Iran”

  1. Nick says:

    I think this is just a shot across the bow for the USG to put additional sanctions for Russia on ice, which I am sure the WH is planning to do anyway. But I doubt Russia will come on the side of Iran on these negotiations for real, because they want to have the opportunity to get back on the “partner” status with the US.

    I love it when I hear US officials (at least in the past) refer to Russia as one of our “partners” in dealing with Iran and now we have sanctions put on our “partners;” what a hypocrisy.

  2. yousaf says:

    If Russia forcefully injects some realism about eg. the PMD file then this could be a good thing. One thing I have not heard discussed much is how long folks think the “long-term” agreement is going to be for. I do not think there are any hard numbers. I have ‘heard’ 5-20 years. I don’t think Iran or NAM will be keen on 20 years. So Russia could help here also by nudging the P5+1 to more reasonable timeframes that Iran could agree to.

  3. Cy says:

    Seems like more and more politics is seeping into the talks. Wonder how long they can try to keep the talks isolated from contemporary world events.

    Interesting that the US is also using the nuclear talks to try to pressure Iran on its missile program — someone tell me, which part of the NPT prohibits Iran from developing missiles again?

    • Nick says:

      The missile issue was a “gift” that Bolton forced on Iran through the UNSC sanctions and not the NPT. The just piggybacked that onto the nuclear related sanctions.

      I love the way veto option works for the P5 members. Russia takes a piece of Ukraine and vetoes any opposition from UNSC. Iran’s non-compliance turns into a Chapter 7 with a whole bunch of ancillary sanctions, including the missile development. Yousaf talks about NPT 2.0, how about UNSC 2.0, way overdue.

      BTW, if you get a chance read Abbasi’s (last AEOI head before Salehi, the current one) interview with the Iranian media last week.

      See an excerpt here from a WINEP article:

      or the original one here:

    • yousaf says:

      Perhaps your comment was made slightly in jest, since the situation has been clearly political rather than technical for years if not decades:

      Agree that missiles do not fall under IAEA purview. Equally, there are no missile experts at the IAEA to check up on them.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    The UN Human Rights Council dutifully just came through with a report slamming Iran. It’s a reminder that the this concocted “crisis” is political, and that the US has other arrows in its quiver, concocted anti-Iran charges that is, besides nuclear, including human rights, terrorism (“world’s leading state sponsor of”), offensive missiles, threats against Israel, etc.

    • yousaf says:

      Indeed, it has always been more of a fatwa on Iran, than any real nuclear weaponzation concern — at least according to the text of the sanctions:

      • Don Bacon says:

        Iran, according to the US, is a “rogue regime” which is a “human rights violator” and the “world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.” Iran has “deception in its DNA” and is isolated in the world.”

        Those are concocted charges. Actually Iran has democratic elections, pales in comparison in terrorism to the US and its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In human rights it’s the US which refuses to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council over its reckless drone-driven assassination program. It’s the US which has deceived the world with its concocted “Iran nuclear weapons program” and its reneging on the 2010 Brazil-Turkey-Iran twenty percent enrichment deal. Iran is isolated in the world? No, Iran chairs the over two-hundred nation Non-Aligned Movement and has more real friends in the Asia (where it lives) than the US does.

        Iran is isolated in one sense only. There are over two hundred nations in the world and the US has relations with all of them except three — Cuba, North Korea and Iran. (Axis of Evil time)

      • Don Bacon says:

        On the new Axis of Evil–

        Cuba is primarily because of domestic political concerns, Florida being a key election state.

        The ongoing war with North Korea (under the 1954 Armistice Agreement, which the US doesn’t observe) is key to continued and growing US military presence in Japan (including Okinawa) and South Korea, one air-hour from Beijing and Shanghai. The DPRK has been given as the reason for the US “pivot” to Asia-Pacific, not wanting to aggravate China too much.

        Iran and its “threat” has many reasons to be in the chosen three. The US currently has over 40,000 troops including an Infantry brigade, aircraft and ships stationed at half a dozen bases around the Persian (called Arabian by the US Navy) Gulf, and is constructing new facilities and increasing military personnel there. The US Fifth Fleet regularly operates in the Gulf and the north Arabian Sea, largely conducting the air war against Afghanistan but also trying to impress Iran. (It hasn’t worked, those ships are simply looked on as prime missile targets.)

        The US arms sales to Gulf nations tops the world list. The US is the best ally of Iran’s enemy Saudi Arabia, a major human rights violator and terrorism supporter particularly in Syria against the government there, and through madrassahs in its ally Pakistan. The Iran long-range missile “threat” is also resulting in new missile defense agreements in Europe (really directed against Russia, similar to the deception against China noted above).

        Isolating Iran and hating it works well with Israel, especially taking the focus off Israel’s extensive, prolonged and ongoing human rights violation as it drives Palestinians off their lands and grabs more territory.

        So I hate to be pessimistic, but I wouldn’t bet on the US making any agreements soon with Iran. Iran is as important as a US “enemy” in its region as North Korea is in its area. These nuclear negotiations were all Iran’s idea, with the US being forced into it, probably leading to the usual fall-back position: — We tried but…

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