Speaking at a plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on March 7, 2009, Sergey Lavrov read President Medvedev's statement that outlined Russia's position on the new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty (the Russian text of the remarks is available at the MID web site, the English text - at the web site of the Reaching Critical Will).

There is not much new there - Russia wants a legally binding agreement, which would limit delivery systems and not just deployed warheads. These are old (and quite reasonable) positions, although getting an agreement like that would be very difficult. I wrote about it back in December.

Some statements are quite peculiar, though. According to Medvedev's part of the address, "the numbers of delivery vehicles and their warheads are considerably lower [than the limits established by START 1]". This is, actually, not the case - according to the July 2008 MOU, the United States has 5951 START-accountable warheads - not much lower than the 6000 ceiling established by the treaty.

The number of "operationally deployed nuclear warheads" is indeed lower than that - according to Hans Kristensen, by that count the United States reached the Moscow treaty limit of 2200 warheads earlier this year. Since Russia, officially at least, rejects the U.S. definition of "operationally deployed nuclear warheads", it is not quite clear how exactly President Medvedev's words should be interpreted. Does Russia accept this count now?

Then, there was a strange idea of "excluding possible deployment of strategic offensive arms outside of national territories". This is not particularly new - the START treaty has this provision (Article V.28 and commentary), but I'm not quite sure why it was prominent again. Especially since Lavrov later clarified that this provision would not apply to submarine deployment. Is this an attempt to limit ICBM-derived missile defense interceptors? Hard to tell. In any event, I doubt that this is an issue that should be in this presumably high-profile statement. (Another similar ban - on deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons outside of national territories - makes much more sense and would have been completely appropriate, but it was not included.)

The overall impression of the statement is that it is quite sloppy and does not leave an impression that Russia is serious about that new agreement. I don't see how a meaningful treaty could be negotiated by the end of the year.