State Department rejects Russian suspension of New START nuclear arms treaty

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The State Department is rejecting Russia‘s suspension of the last Cold War nuclear arms treaty, saying the Kremlin’s move is illegal.

President Vladimir Putin announced in a speech Feb. 21 that Russia was suspending its observance of the 2010 treaty limiting nuclear warheads, missiles and launchers.

The Russian leader said the United States, which has led a campaign of economic sanctions and other penalties on Moscow after the February 2022 invasion of neighboring Ukraine, was working to inflict a “strategic defeat” on his country while “meddling” with nuclear facilities. 

Russia’s claimed suspension of the New START Treaty is legally invalid,” the department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance stated in a notice posted on its website. “As a result, Russia remains bound by its obligations under the treaty.”

Mr. Putin‘s announcement was a setback for the Biden administration, which has tried unsuccessfully to make arms control talks and agreements a centerpiece of its national security policy and hoped to preserve the New START deal limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals despite the Ukraine crisis.

In one of his first acts upon taking office, President Biden in 2021 extended U.S. participation in the expiring treaty, first negotiated in 2010, for another five years.

Critics said the extension was made without seeking to negotiate limits on several new types of strategic weapons being developed by Russia that were not covered by the treaty.

The same day as Mr. Putin announced the suspension, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was not formally withdrawing from the pact and would continue to observe the New START limits on its nuclear forces for now. The treaty limits both U.S. and Russian strategic forces to 1,550 deployed warheads, and analysts say Moscow is in no position for an arms race with the U.S. given the stress of its military because of the Ukraine war.

The State Department said in a formal statement earlier this year that Russia was violating New START by failing to permit inspections of critical nuclear sites called for under the deal. The department also said it suspected Russia is exceeding the 1,550-warhead limit.

The department’s arms control bureau called the Russian move “unfortunate and irresponsible.”

“Mutual compliance with New START strengthens the security of the United States, our allies and partners, Russia, and the world,” the statement said. “The United States remains ready to work constructively with Russia to fully implement the treaty.”

The department called on Moscow to return to compliance by resuming on-site inspections and agreeing to hold talks at the pact’s Bilateral Consultative Commission.

Russia also has halted notifications on the status and movement of its treaty-accountable nuclear forces.

Russia can easily remedy its noncompliance by resuming activities it conducted for years under the treaty: Host inspections, meet in the BCC, and provide notifications and data,” the department said.

The statement also said Russia could conduct nuclear inspections on U.S. territory as part of the treaty, including surveillance flights.

The United States remains in full compliance with New START, and Russia assertions of violations are “false,” the statement said.

The Russian war in Ukraine does not absolve Moscow of following its legal obligations under the treaty, the statement said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged off the State Department statement, saying Mr. Putin‘s complaints outlined last month when he announced the New START suspension were still valid.

“We can only reiterate that Russia suspended its participation based on the president’s decision,” Mr. Peskov told reporters in Moscow Thursday, according to the official Tass news service.

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