Russia Exhorts US to Extend New START Without Preconditions

By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

Image credit: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

WASHINGTON, DC (IDN | Arms Control Association) – Russian officials repeated in late December and early January President Vladimir Putin’s call for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) as soon as possible, though Washington continues to remain silent on the future of the accord, which is scheduled to expire in just over 12 months.[2020-01-23]

Acting Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov commented in a December 26 interview that “we might end up under intense time pressure” if the Trump administration maintains its silence on the future of the treaty. “We would not like to be forced to bring the attention of the Trump administration to this matter as the [presidential] election campaign reaches its peak,” he said.

The following day, Acting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that an extension requires the Russian Federal Assembly to “complete certain procedures,” and the time needed to do so is running short.

“We suggest extending the New START Treaty without any preconditions,” Lavrov reiterated during a January 17 news conference.

Signed in 2010, New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers. The U.S. and Russian presidents can extend the treaty by up to five years, until 2026, by mutual agreement.

The Trump administration has yet to make a decision on whether to extend New START and is instead focused on a more comprehensive approach that covers additional types of Russian nuclear weapons and also includes China. The administration has to date provided few details about its goals for a multilateral accord or strategy for achieving it.

“[I]t is vital that nuclear arms control adapt itself to the modern strategic environment; we are committed to involving both Russia and China…by negotiating a trilateral nuclear arms control agreement,” said Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford in a December 13 speech in Brussels.

Ford tweeted December 20 that the United States has invited China “to begin a strategic security dialogue on nuclear risk reduction and arms control and their future.”

In comments to reporters January 21, Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, claimed that Washington and Moscow had reached an “understanding” about pursuing trilateral talks with China. “Hopefully over time and through the influence of others besides the United States, they (China) will come to the table,” he said.

But China continues to express its opposition to trilateral talks with the United States and Russia.

“This position is very clear and has been widely understood by the international community including Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters January 22. “The U.S. constantly makes an issue of China on this to dodge and shift its responsibilities for nuclear disarmament.”

Lavrov lamented January 17 that the Trump administration “is not providing any final response” on New START and “constantly introducing the subject of involving the People’s Republic of China in these talks.” He characterized as “incomprehensible” U.S. entreaties to Moscow to “undertake to talk China into responding to the U.S. proposal” for multilateral talks.

“We respect the Chinese position, and we won't persuade China to change it,” he said.

Lavrov added that extending New START is necessary “so that there would be some insurance policy in place, while they [the United States] were trying to launch a new multilateral negotiating process.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 January 2020]

Image credit: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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