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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deputies See Little New in U.S. Report

Legislators said Monday there was nothing essentially new in reports that the United States is preparing military contingency plans to use nuclear weapons in certain tactical situations against at least seven countries, including Russia.

But experts observed that while U.S. strategy in itself was not cause for friction between Moscow and Washington, political and media rhetoric surrounding the issue could ratchet up tension.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that the Pentagon sent Congress a classified report in January in which China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria were included as countries against which the military should be prepared to use nuclear weapons.

Reaction over the weekend from the head of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee, Dmitry Rogozin, and former Defense Ministry official Leonid Ivashov, both known hawks, was predictably tough.

Responses on Monday were calmer.

State Duma Deputy Andrei Nikolayev, head of the defense committee and a member of the centrist People's Deputy faction, said he saw "nothing strange" about the Pentagon plans. Any country with nuclear weapons "also has plans about using them," he said, Interfax reported.

Another Duma deputy, Alexei Arbatov, deputy head of the defense committee and a member of the liberal Yabloko party, said in a telephone interview that the United States and Russia have always included each other in contingency plans to use nuclear weapons and that the recent "Nuclear Posture Review" indicated nothing new.

Yury Fyodorov, a nuclear arms expert at the PIR Center think tank, agreed. "I wouldn't over-dramatize the reports," he said, speaking by telephone. "It's well known that during the 1990s and earlier, the United States' strategic nuclear plan always included Russia."

Others were more concerned. Deputy Konstantin Kosachyov, Rogozin's deputy on the Duma's foreign-relations committee, said the plan in fact reflected a change from what he said had been a U.S. strategy of using nuclear weapons as a means of last resort. The United States risked seriously destabilizing the global situation, he said in remarks reported by Interfax.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said if the reported plans actually exist, they "can only raise regret and concern," Interfax reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice on Sunday played down suggestions that the U.S. had moved closer toward using nuclear weapons.

Ivanov said this was not enough. He asked for reassurances from "a higher level" that Washington has not adopted such plans.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in London on Monday, described the report as a routine update to Congress and said the United States is not targeting any nation for nuclear attack.

PIR Center's Fyodorov, meanwhile, said "the real question is why the Russian media and certain politicians are using the Los Angeles Times report to begin a propaganda campaign," he said. "That could complicate the situation."

Kommersant newspaper reported on the news under the headline "A friendly nuclear strike awaits Russia." Nezavisimaya Gazeta included the NPR on a long list of U.S. slights since President Vladimir Putin agreed to support Washington's war on terrorism. Both papers are controlled by Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who has become Putin's harshest critic.

Arbatov pointed to another ramification of the U.S. nuclear contingency plans, saying they indicated that Washington's statements reassuring Moscow that it was no longer seen as a Cold War-era enemy were little more than "demagoguery and lies." He said Washington's intention had been to reduce criticism for its plans to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But given the implication of the NPR -- that Russia is still considered a threat -- a U.S. exit from the ABM Treaty would in fact destabilize global security, he said.

"The attitude of cautiousness on both sides will continue until nuclear arms are finally reduced and both sides become equal partners," Arbatov said.

Arbatov and Fyorodov both said reports about the NPR would not affect ongoing U.S.-Russia talks to reduce strategic nuclear arms stockpiles. "The talks are being conducted with professionals who understand the reality of the situation," Fyodorov said.

Less clear is whether the new flap over nuclear arms policy will affect Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's three days of talks this week in Washington.