The State Department is rejecting Russia’s suspension of the latest Cold War nuclear weapons treaty, saying the Kremlin’s move is illegal.
President Vladimir Putin announced in a speech on February 21 that Russia was suspending its implementation of the 2010 Treaty on Limiting Nuclear Warheads, Missiles and Launchers.
The Russian leader said the United States, which has led a campaign of economic and other sanctions against Moscow since invading neighboring Ukraine in February 2022, is working to inflict a “strategic defeat” on his country while “interfering” with nuclear facilities.
“Russia’s suspension of the New START Treaty is legally void,” the department’s Office of Arms Control, Inspection and Compliance said 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 negotiations and agreements a centerpiece of its national security policy and had hoped to preserve the New START treaty limiting the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia despite the Ukraine crisis.
In one of his first acts since taking office, President Biden in 2021 extended US participation in the treaty first negotiated in 2010 for another five years.
Critics say the extension was made without negotiating limits on several new types of strategic weapons being developed by Russia that are not included in the treaty.
On the same day that Mr. Putin announced the suspension, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow was not formally withdrawing from the treaty and would continue to maintain New START limits on its nuclear forces for the time being. The treaty limits the strategic forces of both the US and Russia to 1,550 warheads, and analysts say Moscow is in no position to enter an arms race with the US given the stress on its military from the war in Ukraine.
Earlier this year, the State Department said in an official statement that Russia was violating New START by preventing inspections of critical nuclear facilities required by the agreement. The agency also said it suspected Russia was 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 is ready to work constructively with Russia to fully implement the treaty.”
The department called on Moscow to return to compliance by resuming on-the-spot inspections and agreeing to negotiate the treaty in a bilateral advisory committee.
Russia has also stopped reporting on the status and movements of its nuclear forces.
“Russia can easily correct its non-compliance by resuming the activities it has been carrying out under the agreement for years. Accept checks, meet at BCC and provide notices and data,” the department said.
The statement also said Russia could conduct nuclear inspections on US soil as part of the agreement, including surveillance flights.
The US continues to fully comply with New START, and Russia’s claims of violations are “lies,” the statement said.
The Russian war in Ukraine does not exempt Moscow from its legal obligations under the treaty, the statement said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the State Department’s statement, saying Mr. Putin’s complaints, expressed last month when he announced the suspension of New START, still stood.
“We can only repeat that Russia has suspended its participation based on the president’s decision,” Mr. Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Thursday, according to the official Tass news service.