Larnaca, Cyprus, March 2012
In March 2012, the Elbe Group met outside Larnaca, Cyprus and discussed nuclear terrorism, ballistic missile defense, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. The group issued a Joint Statement on the importance of Strategic Stability in US-Russian relations. This statement was published as part of an article in the Moscow Times on 1 May 2012.
An outcome of the Larnaca meeting was a decision to host a round table discussion on Afghanistan. General Kulikov hosted the round table in November 2012 in Moscow.
After Action report on Elbe Meeting outside Larnaca, Cyrprus, 18-21 March 2012.
Elbe Group Advises National Leaders. According to a Russian Elbe participant, members of the Elbe Group are serving as an advisory “entourage” to the country’s leadership. Noting that Elbe members had been consulted by Medvedev, Putin, Lavrov, Clinton, and Gates, he urged the group to build on that base by sharing with other officials.
The Elbe Group, which consists of ten retired US and Russian senior officers in the military and intelligence field, continues to be a unique and productive initiative. Since its last meeting outside Lisbon in June 2011, the group has held a round table on missile defense and group members published articles on nuclear terrorism and the European security and missile defense. In conjunction with the Elbe Group’s third meeting from 18 to 21 March of this year, the group published a joint article with recommendations for US-Russian cooperation in combatting nuclear terrorism and drafted a statement on strategic stability (to be published later). US and Russian positions on these issues are being absorbed by members and shared with their respective governments. The group expanded its work in the March session by exchanging informal assessments of Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan.
Best Quote: “There are more areas of cooperation between the US and Russia today than there are areas of difference and, people need to understand this fact.” [Russian member]
The members of the Elbe Group at the Meeting 18-21 March 2012:
General of the Army (ret) Anatoliy S. Kulikov, former Minister of Interior Affairs;
General Colonel (ret) Fedor I. Ladygin, former Head of General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate;
General Colonel (ret) Anatoliy E. Safonov, former Dep Director FSB, Dep Minister of Foreign Affairs;
General Colonel (ret) Vladimir N. Verkhovtsev, former Head of 12th GUMO Nuclear Directorate;
Colonel (ret) Vladimir Y. Goltsov, former Ministry of Interior and MinAtom;
General Eugene Habiger USAF (ret), former Commander in Chief of Strategic Command;
LTG Franklin Hagenbeck USA (ret), former Superintendent U.S. Military Academy;
LTG Michael Maples USA (ret), former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency;
Mr. Robert Dannenberg, former Chief of Operations for Counterterrorism, CIA;
Mr. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former Director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at DOE;
Brigadier General Kevin Ryan USA (ret), former Defense Attache to Moscow.
Key Take Aways:
Ballistic Missile Defense and Strategic Balance
- The issue underlying the Russian objection to US missile defense plans is the effect on the strategic balance between the two countries. When stripped to its core, the threat is the possibility that the US could in the future launch a first strike with nuclear weapons and intercept a Russian response with its missile defenses. In this context, the Elbe Group is finalizing a statement on Strategic Balance expressing the group’s belief that such a nuclear advantage is in neither country’s interest nor either country’s goal.
- The recent announcement in press that the US will share “rocket motor burn out data” is a step in the right direction to get Russian cooperation on BMD, but the main issue remains the lack of a way to guarantee that US BMD plans will not grow to nullify Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
- There is genuine disagreement between US and Russian members as to the time frame when Iran can produce a nuclear weapons. The Russians claim Iran is at least a decade away while US experts say it could happen in a year or so.
- Russian members said that Russia does not want a “nuclear Iran,” but does not favor military action to prevent a nuclear Iran.
- Just as many Russian security specialists assume Iran will one day develop a nuclear bomb, they also assume that the US and/or Israel will use military force to attempt to stop Iran. Russian Elbe Group members differed on the impact to Russia of a military strike against Iran; some say it would harm Russia but others see little impact. There is a real lack of trust among the Russian members about Western and IAEA appraisals of Iranian nuclear program.
- Russian members were unanimous in opposing military intervention in Syria, claiming that Arab Spring uprisings are leading to extremist control in those countries.
- Russian members said that the way the West was approaching the situation in Yemen was a good model for how to approach the situation in Syria and other Middle East countries, i.e. not using military force as in Libya [i.e. not removing entirely the ruling regime]
- A Russian member said Russia was thankful for the contribution to improved security situation in Russia’s southern tier from America’s presence in Afghanistan. “Many problems have decreased.” But, “we expect more occasions of extremism in the wake of the American withdrawal.” The narcotics threat has increased to severe levels and today Russia is not only a transit for drugs but a growing addict (2.5 million heroin addicts).
- As the US leaves Afghanistan, it should shift its strategy to a regional one, incorporating neighboring countries as much as possible into keeping stability. The problems (extremism and terrorism) are really regional ones and the solutions should also be regional. Russia is already a part of that solution as a supply transit and original supporter of Operation Enduring Freedom and would like to be a part of future efforts. Russia could help train police and provide equipment and materials to the Afghanistan government. [Comment: These are similar to offers Russia was making in 2002. In those proposals the main contribution expected from the US was money to pay for the Russian support.]
- One Russian member listed six suggestions for what the US should do as it transitions from Afghanistan.
- Work with regional countries as US withdraws. Share information and get input from neighboring countries. The problem in Afghanistan is actually a regional one and the solution should be a regional one.
- Try to bolster the internal political situation in Afghanistan. They are not yet set for success.
- Bolster Afghanistan’s economic situation. Russian businesses were ready to come back into Afghanistan, but the US prevented it. Invite Russian and other businessmen into the country.
- Improve the construction sector of the economy so that buildings and roads and infrastructure can continue to be built post withdrawal.
- “Russia is extremely interested – extremely interested - in work on anti-narcotics efforts.”
- US and Russia could share lessons for combatting the effects of the war on soldiers. Many Russian soldiers after their war were in terrible shape mentally and physically. If the US is suffering similar effects Russia and the US could share medical insights and treatments.
- Intelligence and information sharing between the two countries and within each country (between central, regional and local agencies) needs improvement.
Preventing Nuclear Terrorism
- Elbe Group members continue to agree that nuclear terrorism is a grave and real threat to security and in advance of the Seoul Nuclear Summit published ajoint article in US and Russian media with specific recommendations for US and Russian cooperation in combatting nuclear terrorism.
- A Russian member said that successful and productive US Russian cooperation on Preventing Nuclear Terrorism can be a “hard point” on which to secure cooperation in other areas of the relationship. Trust built on this issue can expand to other areas.