Russian senators have proposed changes to the country’s nuclear doctrine, potentially giving Moscow the power to launch weapons of mass destructions in response to a conventional attack.
Members of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, recommended Wednesday that Moscow expand its nuclear doctrine to include “taking a decision to retaliate in case of enemy use of hypersonic and other strategic conventional weapons” according to a state-run RIA Novosti report translated by fellow Russian government-owned outlet RT. The discussions reportedly came after consultations with officials from the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The news came as President Donald Trump publicly considered leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, to which Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of his administration have threatened to respond with military measures of their own.
According to Russia’s latest nuclear doctrine, adopted in December 2014, the country “shall reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”
It also states that “Nuclear weapons will remain an important factor of preventing an outbreak of nuclear military conflicts involving the use of conventional arms (large-scale war or regional war).” That same year, Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula amid political unrest in neighboring Ukraine sparked a massive mobilization of U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance along Europe’s eastern boundaries with Russia.
The two factions have increasingly militarized their borders, conducting dueling exercises of historic magnitudes. As tensions spiraled, the U.S. had accused Russia of violating the INF—a 1987 treaty banning the deployment of land-based nuclear and non-nuclear ballistic missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,420 miles—by developing the Novator 9M729 missile system, while Russia claimed the U.S. had broken its end of the bargain by installing a missile defense shield that could allegedly be used offensively in the event of a conflict.
Trump announced last month his intention to withdraw from the INF, drawing harsh ominous warnings from Putin and other Moscow officials. On Wednesday, Russian senators and Defense Ministry officials warned that updating the nuclear doctrine was necessary due to a heightened risk of local and regional conflicts spilling over into a large-scale war involving conventional or nuclear attacks.
In addition the potential U.S. pullout from the INF, these concerns may have partially been fueled by another controversial decision by the Trump administration. The Pentagon amended its own nuclear doctrine in February when it issued its latest Nuclear Posture Review, which focused heavily on perceived threats from Russia and China. The document called for low-yield nuclear weapons, which many experts have argued could make them more tempting to use.
Both the U.S. and Russia have refused to adopt “no-first-use” policies in terms, but have generally vowed to only use nuclear weapons defensively. Still, both Trump and Putin have set out to modernize their respective strategic capabilities as they continue to gradually disarm as part of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), an agreement that followed the 1991 START.