WASHINGTON: The United States said on Tuesday that Russia was not complying with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the last remaining arms control treaty between the world’s two main nuclear powers, as tensions soar over the Ukraine war. Responding to a request from Congress, the State Department faulted Russia for suspending inspections and cancelling talks but did not accuse its Cold War rival of expanding nuclear warheads beyond agreed limits.
“Russia is not complying with its obligation under the New START to facilitate inspection activities on its territory,” a State Department spokesperson said, charging that Moscow’s refusal “threatens the viability of US-Russian nuclear arms control.”
“Russia has a clear path for returning to full compliance. All Russia needs to do is allow inspection activities on its territory, just as it did for years under the New START Treaty, and meet in a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission,” he said, referring to the formal talks set up under the treaty. “There is nothing preventing Russian inspectors from travelling to the United States and conducting inspections.”
Moscow announced in early August that it was suspending US inspections of its military sites under New START. It said it was responding to American obstruction of inspections by Russia, a charge denied by Washington. Diplomacy between the two powers has ground to a bare minimum over the past year as the United States leads a drive to punish Russia economically and arm Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons as it fights back an invasion from Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, reviving Cold War-era fears of an apocalyptic war. Russia indefinitely postponed talks under New START that had been due to start on November 29 in Cairo, accusing the United States of “toxicity and animosity.”
Make the world safer
President Joe Biden shortly after taking office extended New START by five years until 2026, giving time to negotiate while preserving what the Democratic administration sees as an important existing treaty. The previous administration of Donald Trump had ripped up previous arms control agreements and had been hesitant to preserve New START in its current form, saying that any nuclear treaty must also include China, whose arsenal is rapidly growing but still significantly below those of Russia and the United States.
The Biden administration indicated that it wanted to preserve New START, saying the treaty was meant “to make the world safer.” “To fully deliver on the promise of the treaty by ensuring it remains an instrument of stability and predictability, Russia must fully implement and comply with its obligations,” the State Department spokesperson said.
Republican lawmakers, who took control of the House of Representatives in January, had asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to report by Tuesday whether Russia was in violation of New START. In a letter last week, the Republican heads of the committees on foreign affairs, armed services and intelligence said that Russia’s actions and statements “at a minimum raise serious compliance concerns.”
New START, signed by then-president Barack Obama in 2010 when relations were warmer, restricted Russia and the United States to a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each — a reduction of nearly 30% from the previous limit set in 2002. It also limits the number of launchers and heavy bombers to 800, still easy enough to destroy Earth.