Jan 31, 2023 - World

U.S. accuses Russia of violating terms of nuclear arms control treaty

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The Russian flag flies at the Russian embassy's compound in Washington, D.C. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Russia is violating the terms of the New START nuclear arms control treaty by refusing to allow on-site inspections, the State Department said Tuesday.

Why it matters: It's the first time the U.S. has accused Russia of breaching the terms of the agreement, which seeks to limit the long-range nuclear weapons programs of the U.S. and Russia, per the Wall Street Journal.

  • "If New START is terminated or allowed to expire, the nuclear arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers would have no treaty-based limitation for the first time since the 1970s," Bloomberg noted.

Catch up quick: The New START treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which entered into force in 2011 and has been extended through Feb. 2026, allows for up to 18 on-site inspections per year, according to the State Department.

  • It also established the Bilateral Consultative Commission, a compliance and implementation body that meets at least twice annually and provides a forum for either party to raise questions about compliance or implementation.
  • The treaty's verification provisions give the U.S. a "vital window into Russian intercontinental-range nuclear forces and operations," per the State Department.
  • Per the treaty, Russia and the U.S. are both allowed up to 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles and 1,550 nuclear warheads on those missiles. The countries are also allowed "800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, [submarine-launched ballistic missiles] launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments," per the State Department.

The big picture: The U.S. and Russia mutually agreed in March 2020 to suspend inspections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Journal reported.

  • However, when the U.S. sought to resume the inspections last August, Russia rebuffed the efforts, at least in part due to tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine.
  • A meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission was slated to take place last November, but Russia abruptly called it off and has not agreed to a new date.

What they're saying: Russia's refusal to allow for inspections "prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control," a State Department spokesperson said.

  • Russia has also refused to agree to a meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the spokesperson said, noting that Russia has a "clear path" towards compliance, by resuming inspections and agreeing to a meeting of the commission.
  • "There is nothing preventing Russian inspectors from traveling to the United States and conducting inspections," the spokesperson added. "The United States continues to view nuclear arms control as an indispensable means of strengthening U.S., ally, and global security."

Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., in a statement late Tuesday called the U.S. accusations "sensational" and said "Russia remains committed to the goals of the New START Treaty and continues to regard it as a useful instrument for maintaining strategic stability and ensuring predictability in relations between the major nuclear powers."

  • Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told RIA state news agency on Monday that it is "quite possible" the treaty would not exist after 2026, per Reuters.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Anatoly Antonov's statement.

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