Russia Drops No-First-Use Pledge on Its Nuclear Weapons

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RUSSIA has renounced a long-standing Soviet policy pledging no first use of nuclear weapons in a war, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told reporters yesterday.

According to a new military doctrine unveiled by General Grachev, Russia reserves the possibility to use nuclear weapons against any aggressor, including non-nuclear states allied with a nuclear power.

The Russian military leader also pointedly exempted from the list of potential targets the 157 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), including the US. The formula, Russian observers say, is clearly meant to put pressure on the neighboring former Soviet republic of Ukraine that has so far refused to give up totally the former Soviet nuclear weapons based on its territory and sign the NPT.

The Russian military is eager to shed declared defense policies of the Soviet era, many of which Western governments asserted were more myth than reality. While renouncing old aims, the Russian Army is also taking up new, perhaps equally ambitious goals. But in post-Soviet Russia, the economic means to carry out these ambitions are shrinking. "We cannot ask for additional financing," Grachev admitted.

The pledge of no first use of nuclear weapons was a long-standing tool of Soviet propaganda, particularly in Western Europe, where it was used to promote demands for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons based there. The United States, along with other Western nuclear powers, has always reserved the right to use nuclear weapons to respond to a massive Soviet conventional attack on Europe, or elsewhere.

Grachev sharply asserted Russia's policy change, arguing it only put Russia in line with other nuclear powers.

"Is there any other policy in France? Is there any other policy in the United States?" Grachev asked rhetorically. "At that time, it was the Soviet Union. Now it is Russia. They are two different states."

Russian policy now mirrors that of the US in stating that while it does not envision military use of nuclear weapons, they are "a means of deterrence against the launching of aggression against the Russian Federation and its allies."

The doctrine, sections of which were read out by Grachev but which will not be published in full, states that Russia will not use nuclear weapons against any state that is a member of the NPT, except in case of an attack on Russia and its allies by a country tied by treaty to a nuclear power or jointly carrying out an attack with a nuclear power.

The Russian defense minister also revealed that another previous principle of Soviet military doctrine has been abandoned - the pledge not to go beyond the country's borders in repelling an attack. …