WASHINGTON — The State Department told Congress Tuesday that Russia was not complying with the only remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the two nations, jeopardizing a 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-Russia nuclear arms control,” the State Department said in a statement Tuesday.
It added that “Russia has also failed to comply with the obligation of the New START treaty to convene a session of the bilateral consultative commission according to the schedule required by the treaty.”
The State Department urged Russia to return to compliance by allowing inspectors into its territory, as it had done for more than a decade, and by agreeing to hold a commission session, where officials could discuss issues related to the treaty and nuclear power. gun control.
Russia announced in August that it was suspending US inspectors’ access to its nuclear arsenal. And in November it canceled a diplomatic meeting of the bilateral commission in Cairo during which officials were scheduled to review compliance with the treaty. The commission last met in October 2021.
In August, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said that Moscow was postponing the meeting because the United States “did not want to take Russia’s priorities into account, they just wanted to discuss the resumption of inspections,” the RIA said. state. The Novosti 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 disclosures and notifications in accordance with the treaty.”
The treaty was signed in 2010 and has ensured since 2011 that the two nations limit their strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,500 warheads each. The main verification mechanism of the treaty centers on reciprocal inspections in which each country can examine data and evidence surrounding the nuclear arsenal.
When Russia suspended inspections, he said US sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine made it too difficult for its inspectors to get into the United States. The State Department said that was false.
January 31, 2023, 3:05 p.m. ET
After the pandemic began in March 2020, the two sides suspended inspections, and US officials have said they hope the practice will return to its regular schedule.
The New START agreement was set to expire on February 5, 2021, but the two governments announced a five-year extension two days before that deadline. The large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year by the Russian military under President Vladimir V. Putin makes any further negotiations on arms control difficult. Since the war began, President Biden has suspended any diplomatic discussion of new arms control treaties.
Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said the deterioration of New START was worrisome and did not bode well for a 2026 renovation.
“Things are looking very bleak right now,” he said. Although “the treaty strongly favors the interests of both parties,” he added, “the Russians appear to be allowing what is happening in Ukraine to spill over into all politics.”
“I think an unrestricted arms race between Russia and the United States is not in our interest, and that is what will happen,” Lewis said.
New START does not cover the use of tactical nuclear weapons. US and European officials have debated whether Putin could use such a weapon in Ukraine. That possibility was hotly discussed last fall in Washington and other European capitals because of specifics from intelligence agencies, but the rumors among officials have since died down.
In August 2019, the Trump administration announced it was ending another arms control treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement, after suspending it in February. The United States had accused Russia of repeatedly violating the treaty, which had been in effect since the Reagan administration. US officials also said they were growing concerned about China, which was not party to the treaty, insisting they did not want its ability to deploy missiles in the Asia-Pacific region hampered.
The completion 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 American, allied, and global security,” the State Department said Tuesday. “It’s even more important in times of stress when railings and clarity are most important.”