The US says Russia is not complying with START, a nuclear weapons treaty

WASHINGTON — The State Department told Congress on Tuesday that Russia is not in compliance the only nuclear arms control treaty remaining between the two nations, threatening the source of stability in their relationship.

The agency said Russia had refused to allow US inspectors into nuclear weapons facilities, an obligation under the treaty known as New START, which was renewed for five years in February 2021.

“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 State Department said in a statement on Tuesday.

It added that “Russia has also failed to fulfill its obligation under the New START treaty to convene a session of the bilateral consultative commission in accordance with the timetable set by the treaty.”

The State Department urged Russia to return to compliance by allowing inspectors into its territory, as it has done for more than a decade, and by agreeing to hold a commission session where officials discuss issues related to the treaty and nuclear energy arms control.

Russia announced in August that it was suspending US inspectors’ access to its nuclear arsenal. And in November, that cancelled diplomatic meeting of the bilateral commission in Cairo, during which officials planned to review compliance with the treaty. The Commission last met in October 2021.

In August, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said Moscow was postponing the meeting because the United States “does not want to take into account Russia’s priorities, they want to discuss only the resumption of inspections,” the state-run RIA news agency reported “.

“The situation around Ukraine also had an impact,” the agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.

After Russia’s announcement, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said the two nations “continued to provide data declarations and notifications consistent with the treaty.”

The treaty was signed in 2010 and since 2011 has ensured that the two nations limit their strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,500 warheads each. The treaty’s main verification mechanism centers on reciprocal inspections, where each side can examine data and evidence surrounding the nuclear arsenal.

When Russia suspended the inspections, it said U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine made it too difficult for its inspectors to access the United States. The State Department said that was false.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, both countries have suspended inspections, and US officials have said they hope to return the practice to a regular schedule.

The New START agreement was due to expire on February 5, 2021, but the two governments announced a five-year extension two days before that deadline. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February by the Russian military under the command of President Vladimir V. Putin has complicated any further arms control talks. Since the start of the war, President Biden has postponed any diplomatic discussions about new arms control treaties.

Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, said the deterioration of New START was troubling and did not bode well for the prospects for a 2026 renewal.

“Things are looking very bleak at the moment,” he said. While “the deal is very much in the interest of both sides,” he added, “the Russians seem to be allowing what’s happening in Ukraine to spill over into all policies.”

“I think an unrestricted arms race between Russia and the United States is not in our interests, and that will happen,” Mr. Lewis said.

New START does not cover the use of tactical nuclear weapons. US and European officials are debating whether Mr Putin could use such a weapon in Ukraine. Che the possibility was intensively discussed last fall in Washington and other European capitals over specific data from intelligence agencies, but talk of it among officials has since died down.

In August 2019, the Trump administration announced he is terminating another arms control treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, after suspending it in February. The United States has accused Russia of repeatedly violating the treaty, which has been active since the Reagan administration. US officials have also said they are increasingly concerned about China, which is not a party to the treaty, and have insisted they do not want their ability to deploy missiles in the Asia-Pacific region to be limited.

The termination of that agreement left New START as the only remaining nuclear weapons treaty between the United States and Russia.

“The United States continues to view nuclear arms control as an indispensable means of strengthening the security of the United States, its allies, and the world,” the State Department said Tuesday. “It’s even more important during times of stress, when guardrails and clarity matter most.”

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