April 1, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6369

Russia Boycotts U.S.-Hosted Nuclear Security Summit

April 1, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6369

Russia is boycotting the Fourth Nuclear Security Summit, March 31-April 1, 2016 in Washington D.C. The summit is discussing steps to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling, and deter, detect, and disrupt nuclear terror attacks.[1] While Russia participated in the three previous summits - in 2010 in Washington, 2012 in Seoul, and 2014 in The Hague - Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to participate in an event hosted by the U.S., and the country is being represented at the summit by Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak.


On March 23-24, 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow and met with President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.[2] The meetings were described in Russian media as "relaxed" and "friendly," but relations between Russia and the U.S. are tense. On March 31, in the Russian Foreign Ministry's weekly press briefing,[3] ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the deterioration of Russia-U.S. relations is the result of a "deliberate choice" made by the U.S. administration: "The cooling of bilateral relations - not even cooling, but their deterioration to the current level - was not a Russian choice. As we understand, it was a deliberate choice, made by the current U.S. leadership." 

Russian Officials: "The Summit Is An Attempt By A Small Number Of States To Impose Their Agenda On Higher International Structures"

In January 2016, Zakharova said that Russia would not participate in the summit, because the "central role" in coordinating nuclear security efforts should be held by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): "Obviously, these recommendations [coming out of the summit], whatever formal status they may have, will become an attempt to attach the opinion of a limited group of states to the international organizations [the IAEA, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the UN, Interpol, and the Global Partnership] and [will prompt] initiatives to circumvent [these organizations'] own mechanisms of making political decisions." She added that the Kremlin believes that "the creation of such a precedent of outside meddling in the work plan of international organizations that have great expert potential and are embedded in democratic procedures is unacceptable."

Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, also stressed that the summit in Washington can be perceived as "an attempt by a small number of states to impose their agenda on higher international structures."[4] He said: "The American organizers of the summit themselves pushed us to a negative decision when they drastically changed the rules of the preparatory work without consulting anybody. They decided to create five working groups, offering each of the invited states to choose one of them... Only the U.S., South Korea, and the Netherlands, as the host-states of previous such meetings, had the opportunity to track and influence the preparatory work in all of the working groups." He also explained that the preparatory groups were working on the issue of nuclear security outside the framework of international organizations such as the UN, the IAEA, Interpol and others: "For those who were not invited to Washington [e.g. Iran] for some reason, this can be perceived as an attempt of a small group of countries to impose their agenda on international structures with a far wider membership... [This is] not very democratic and does not correspond to the norms of international practice."

The U.S. criticized the Kremlin's decision to boycott the event. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that Russia is isolating itself by not participating in the summit:[5] "Frankly, all they are doing is isolating themselves in not participating as they have in the past." However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained that Russia refused to take part in the summit "because of the lack of cooperation by partners,"[6] adding: "Moscow considers working on issues connected to nuclear security [to be something that] demands common and joint efforts, a mutual taking into account [of] interests and positions. We faced a certain lack of cooperation during the preliminary stage of working on issues and topics of the summit. That's why in this case there is no participation of the Russian side." 

Russian Nuclear Weapons Deployed In Crimea

The pro-Kremlin media outlet reported[7] on statements by Vladimir Kozin, chief adviser at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, professor at the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, and member of the Scientific Board at the National Institute for Global Security Research. Kozin said that Russia's boycott of the summit was based on three reasons: "First, the agenda [of the summit] itself raises doubts: Questions of nuclear security will not be discussed there in full. Second, Russia was not included in the preparation of the final documents which are to be adopted at the meeting. Third, the U.S. keeps evading discussion of really urgent issues, which relate to nuclear security. The Americans are the only nation in the world that deploys tactical nuclear weapons abroad, in the territories of four European countries and in the Asian part of Turkey, and advance it as close as possible to Russia [referring to the U.S. strategic B-52 bombers that participated in NATO's March 1-9, 2016 "Cold Response" drill in Norway, which were perceived by the Kremlin as a nuclear drill against Russia]."

Kozin also argued that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's participation in the summit was aimed at questioning the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in the Crimea. Poroshenko and "his Western colleagues," he said, should instead "scrutinize the fact that the U.S. anti-missile launchers, which are to be put into operation in Poland and Romania in the nearest future, may be equipped with offensive nuclear weapons, including cruise missiles." He added that given that the Crimea is considered by the Kremlin to be part of Russia, and that it is Russia's sovereign right to deploy nuclear weapons "within its borders."

Andrei Baklitsky, director of the Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation Program at the Moscow-based PIR Center, said that one of the reasons for Putin's absence at the summit is the fact that the event is hosted by the U.S., which did not invite a number of Russian allies to it: "For example, as you know, Iran is not a member and was not participating in any security summit, despite the fact that it has nuclear material that clearly needs protection and security. With this arbitrary approach, there is always this feeling that maybe [the summit] should be hosted someplace where everybody could participate and engage."


[1], August 5, 2015

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6363, Kerry's Visit to Moscow: Much 'Humor' About Nothing, March 28, 2016.

[3], March 31, 2016.

[4], March 31, 2016.

[5], March 30, 2016.

[6], March 30, 2016.

[7], March 31, 2016

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