WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department told Congress on Tuesday that Russia is not abiding by the only nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries, endangering a source of stability in their relationship.
The agency said Russia refused to allow U.S. inspectors access to nuclear weapons facilities, an obligation under the New START treaty, which was renewed in February 2021 for five years.
“Russia’s refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control,” the State Department said in a statement Tuesday.
It added that “Russia also failed to comply with its obligations under the New START Treaty by not convening bilateral consultative committee meetings according to the timetable stipulated in the Treaty.”
The State Department called on Russia to return to compliance by allowing inspectors into its territory, as it has done for more than a decade, and agreed to a committee meeting where officials could discuss issues related to the treaty and nuclear armaments control.
Russia announced in August that it would suspend US inspectors from accessing its nuclear arsenal. In November, it canceled a diplomatic meeting of the bilateral commission in Cairo where officials planned to review compliance with the treaty. The committee will conclude in October 2021.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said Moscow postponed the meeting because the U.S. “does not want to consider Russia’s priorities, they only want to discuss resuming inspections,” the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported .
“The situation around Ukraine also had an impact,” the agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.
After Russia announced the checks in August, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the two countries “continue to provide data declarations and notifications under the treaty.”
The treaty, signed in 2010, has since 2011 ensured that both countries will limit their respective strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,500 warheads. The treaty’s main verification mechanism centers around mutual inspections, where each country can examine data and evidence surrounding its nuclear arsenal.
When Russia suspended inspections, it said U.S. sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine made it difficult for its inspectors to enter the United States. The State Department said it was fake.
After the outbreak in March 2020, the inspections were suspended by both sides, and U.S. officials have been expressing a desire to resume normal exercises.
The New START agreement was originally scheduled to expire on February 2. May 5, 2021, but the two governments announced a five-year extension two days before the deadline. A full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces under President Vladimir V. Putin last February made any further talks on arms control difficult. President Biden has suspended any diplomatic discussion of new arms control treaties since the war began.
Geoffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said New START’s deterioration was troubling and did not bode well for the prospects for a 2026 renewal.
“It’s looking very dire right now,” he said. He added that while “the treaty is very much in the interests of both parties, the Russians appear to have allowed what happened in Ukraine to affect all policy.”
“I don’t think it’s in either of our interests to have an unrestricted arms race between Russia and the United States, and that’s what’s going to happen,” Mr Bush said. Lewis said.
New START does not include the use of tactical nuclear weapons. US and European officials have been debating whether Mr Putin might use the weapon in Ukraine. The possibility was hotly discussed in Washington and other European capitals last fall because of specific data from intelligence agencies, but discussions among officials have quieted down.
In August 2019, the Trump administration announced it would terminate another arms control treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Agreement, after it had been suspended in February. The United States has accused Russia of repeatedly violating the treaty, which has been active since the Reagan administration. U.S. officials have also expressed growing concern that China is not a party to the treaty, insisting they do not want their ability to deploy missiles in the Asia-Pacific region hindered.
The end of the agreement makes New START the only remaining nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia.
“The United States continues to view nuclear arms control as an integral means to strengthen the security of the United States, our allies, and the world,” the State Department said Tuesday. “This is especially important during tense times when guardrails and clarity matter most.”