WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States accused Russia on Tuesday of violating the New START treaty, the last major post-Cold War pillar of nuclear arms control between the two countries, saying Moscow was refusing to allow inspection activities on its territory.
The contract entered into force in 2011, and was extended in 2021 for another five years. It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy, as well as the deployment of missiles and bombers from land and submarines to deliver them.
The two countries, which during the Cold War were constrained by a patchwork of arms control agreements, still jointly possess about 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads.
Washington has been eager to preserve the agreement, but ties with Moscow are at their worst in decades because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which could complicate President Joe Biden’s administration’s attempts to maintain and reach a follow-on agreement.
“Russia’s refusal to allow inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of US-Russian nuclear arms control,” a State Department spokesman said in emailed comments.
The Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, as saying that “arms control cannot be isolated from geopolitical reality” and that Russia considered it inappropriate to invite the US military into its strategic facilities at this time.
Antonov said that Russia will still adhere to other conditions and limitations of New START.
Leaders of the US Senate National Security Committee, which must approve the deals, said Moscow’s failure to comply would affect future arms pacts.
“But to be very clear, compliance with New START commitments will be critical to Senate consideration of any future strategic arms control agreement with Moscow,” Democratic senators Bob Menendez, Jack Reed and Mark Warner said in a statement.
Menendez chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Reed chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Warner chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Moscow suspended cooperation with inspections under the deal in August, blaming travel restrictions imposed by Washington and its allies after Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine last February, but said it remained committed to complying with the deal’s provisions.
A State Department spokesman added that Russia has a “clear path” to return to compliance by allowing inspection activities, and that Washington remains ready to work with Russia to fully implement the treaty.
“New START remains in the national security interest of the United States,” the spokesman said.
Talks between Moscow and Washington on the continuation of New START inspections were supposed to take place in November in Egypt, but Russia postponed them and neither side set a new date.
On Monday, Russia told the United States that the treaty could expire in 2026 without a replacement as it said Washington was trying to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Moscow in Ukraine.
Asked if Moscow could imagine that there would be no nuclear arms control agreement after 2026, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the new state news agency RIA: “This is a very possible scenario.”
The United States has delivered more than $27 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion, including more than 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missile systems and 1 million 155mm artillery shells.