Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Elbe Group Joint Statement

Mar. 31, 2014

By Brigadier General Kevin Ryan (ret.)
Recognizing that the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea has shuttered communication between the American and Russian governments, a group of senior American and Russian former military and intelligence officers met quietly in Morocco from 19 to 22 March to ask each other whether there remain any areas where the two nations should continue joint efforts.  The answer, given in a joint statement at the end of the meeting, was yes. 

These officers were members of the “Elbe Group,” organized by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. The group has been meeting since 2010 to discuss strategic issues of mutual concern, starting with the threat of nuclear terrorism. The members of the Elbe Group are senior retired military and intelligence flag officers; three- and four-star veterans from the Federal Security Service (Russian acronym FSB), Russian military intelligence (the GRU), the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Russian Ministry of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Defense, with strong connections into their respective governments. 

Russian Elbe Group generals huddle in Morocco to discuss Ukraine and Crimea with American counterparts.

Since its 2010 launch, the Elbe Group has met regularly to discuss nuclear terrorism and nuclear security, and has branched into other areas of US-Russian relations.  In Morocco, the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea hung over every discussion.  Even in private talks between officers who have been meeting for four years, the disagreements over “the facts” in Ukraine were as profound as the different portrayals in the two countries’ media.  But the group agreed that there remain national security interests which should not be “held hostage,” as one Russian put it, to the current situation in Ukraine.  Among those vital interests are nuclear security and preventing nuclear terrorism. 

The message that the Elbe Group elected therefore to convey in its Joint Statement is that, while it is understandable that a general break in relations is unavoidable, this break should be structured in a way that does not indefinitely interrupt joint actions on sensitive problems like nuclear terrorism, Syrian WMD elimination, or Iranian nuclear discussions.  As one Russian said, “If we cannot agree on steps to make things better, we may at least be able to agree on steps to avoid making things worse.” 

Elbe Group Members at the Morocco meeting were:

General of the Army Anatoliy S. Kulikov (ret.), former Minister of Interior Affairs;
General/Ambassador Anatoliy E. Safonov (ret.), former Acting Head of the FSB;
General Colonel Vladimir V. Verkhovtsev (ret.), former Head of 12th GUMO Nuclear Directorate;
Colonel Vladimir Y. Goltsov (ret.), former Ministry of Interior and MinAtom;
General John Abizaid U.S. Army (ret.), former Commander Central Command;
General Eugene Habiger U.S. Air Force (ret.), former Commander in Chief of Strategic Command;
LTG Franklin Hagenbeck U.S. Army (ret.), former Superintendent U.S. Military Academy;
LTG Michael Maples U.S. Army (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 at the U.S. Department of Energy;
Brigadier General Kevin Ryan USA (ret.), former Defense Attaché to Moscow.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Elbe Group Joint Statement.” Nuclear Security Matters, March 31, 2014,