US says Russia is violating key nuclear arms control agreement
Russia is violating a key nuclear arms control agreement with the United States and continues to refuse to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, a State Department spokesman said Tuesday.
“Russia is not fulfilling its obligation under the New START Treaty to facilitate inspection activities on its territory. Russia’s refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of US-Russian nuclear arms control,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“Russia also failed to meet the New START Treaty obligation to convene a meeting of the bilateral advisory commission according to the schedule prescribed in the treaty,” the spokesman added.
The US announcement is likely to increase tensions with relations between the two countries in the doldrums as Moscow continues its war against Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wartime nuclear saber-rattling has alarmed the US and its allies.
In December, Putin warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war, and this month Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, threatened that if Russia lost the war, it could “provoke the outbreak of nuclear war.”
“Nuclear powers do not lose major conflicts on which their fate depends,” Medvedev wrote in a Telegram post. “That should be clear to everyone. Even for a Western politician who has retained at least a trace of intelligence.”
And although a US intelligence assessment in November indicated that Russian military officials were debating under what circumstances Russia would use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, the US has seen no evidence that Putin decided to take the drastic step of using a to undertake such, officials told CNN.
Under the new START treaty — the only deal still governing the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals — Washington and Moscow are allowed to inspect each other’s weapons sites, but inspections have been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A meeting of the Bilateral Advisory Commission on the treaty was scheduled to take place in Egypt at the end of November but was abruptly cancelled. The US has blamed Russia for the postponement, with a State Department spokesman saying the decision was made “unilaterally” by Russia.
The treaty limits the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended by five years in early 2021, meaning both sides must start negotiations for another arms control agreement soon.
John Erath, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told CNN on Tuesday that Russia’s non-compliance “doesn’t mean they’re secretly building large numbers of nuclear weapons.”
“That’s not the part they don’t comply with,” he said. “It’s the screening regulations.”
But he added that Russia is likely to use its non-compliance as leverage to try to end the war on its terms.
“They’ve committed to New START as a lever they have,” Erath said. “You know we’d like to keep it going and we want it to happen because everyone feels more comfortable when there’s an arms control agreement that works.”
Russia, he continued, “is using its non-compliance to put a little more pressure on us to say, ‘Oh, this war threatens arms control, we care. Hey Ukrainian friends, don’t you think you’ve done enough? How about stopping that?’”
Lawmakers responded by warning that any future arms control deal with Russia could be in jeopardy unless the situation is salvaged.
“We have long supported strategic arms control with Russia, voted for New START in 2010 and campaigned for the treaty extension during both the Trump and Biden administrations. But to be absolutely clear, meeting New START treaty commitments will be critical to Senate consideration of any future strategic arms control treaty with Moscow,” Democratic Senators Bob Menendez, Jack Reed and Mark Warner wrote in a joint statement Explanation.
The State Department says Russia can return to full compliance if it “allows inspection activities on its territory, as it has done for years under the new START treaty,” and also schedules a meeting of the commission.
“Russia has a clear path to returning to full compliance. All Russia has to do is allow inspection activities on its territory, as it has done for years under the new START treaty, and meet for a session of the bilateral advisory commission,” the spokesman said. “Nothing prevents Russian inspectors from traveling to the United States and conducting inspections.”
According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Russia has around 5,977 nuclear warheads, of which 1,588 are deployed. The US has 5,550 nuclear warheads, including 3,800 active warheads, according to Center.
Administration officials have said that the willingness to discuss the arms control agreement, even as Russia wages its war in Ukraine, demonstrates US commitment to diplomacy and reducing the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.
But Russia has hinted in recent days that US support for Ukraine is preventing an extension of the treaty.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday the final remaining element of the bilateral nuclear arms control treaty with the United States could expire in three years without replacement.
Asked whether Moscow envisages there not being a nuclear arms control agreement between the two nations when the 2011 extension of the New START treaty to 2026 expires, Ryabkov told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Monday: “The is a very possible scenario.”