Lavrov’s remarks come against the backdrop of changes to the nuclear posture of both the United States and Russia. U.S. officials have accused Russia of deploying a land-based cruise missile in violation of a 1987 arms control treaty. Russia denied that charge.
Russia also envisions the use of low-yield nuclear weapons to win limited conflicts, according to military officials, whereas the U.S. nuclear force is geared towards the kind of total war reflected by Cold War strategy. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis unveiled a Nuclear Posture Review that calls for the development of smaller nuclear weapons to counteract Russian plans.
“Russia must instead understand that nuclear first-use, however limited, will fail to achieve its objectives, fundamentally alter the nature of a conflict, and trigger incalculable and intolerable costs for Moscow,” the review said. “This strategy will ensure Russia understands it has no advantages in will, non-nuclear capabilities, or nuclear escalation options. Correcting any Russian misperceptions along these lines is important to maintaining deterrence in Europe and strategic stability.”
Lavrov replied by turning that accusation back on the United States, and the Pentagon’s call for low-yield nuclear weapons “lower[s] the threshold of using nuclear weapons” and thus threatens Russia.
“Russia has no deployed tactical nuclear weapons,” he said. “In this situation the existence in Europe of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons ready for use is not just a Cold War rudiment, but an outspokenly aggressive stance.”