Russia Threatens to Invoke Force Majeure in New START, and Alter its Position on IranPosted: March 20, 2014
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.