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Nuclear arms control treaty with US could be in danger, Russia warns

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov


Russia has warned the United States that the last remaining pillar of a nuclear arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington could fall in 2026 without a replacement due to what the Kremlin labeled US efforts to inflict “strategic defeat” on Moscow in Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA state news agency on Monday it is "quite a possible scenario" that no such treaty exists beyond 2026.

Russia's top arms control diplomat also accused the US of ignoring Russia's interests and dismantling most of the architecture of arms control in recent years. "New START may well fall victim to this. We are ready for such a scenario."

Back in July 1991, START, which later was called START I, was signed by then US President George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, barring both countries from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and bombers.

In January 1993, President Bush and Boris Yeltsin, then Russian president, signed START II, but it collapsed and never went into effect.

START I expired in late 2009 and its replacement, the New START or START III, was signed in April 2010 by then US President Barack Obama and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, under which both sides agreed to halve the number of strategic nuclear missiles and restrict the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, the lowest level in decades. However, it does not limit the number of operationally inactive nuclear warheads that remain in the high thousands in the US and Russian stockpiles.

The New START agreement was extended in February 2021 until February 4, 2026, by US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. If the pact fails to be extended, another element of tension will be added to the already strained ties between the two powers.

Ryabkov's comments on Monday constituted a warning to the US that its continued military support for Ukraine could ruin the last major post-Cold War bilateral arms control treaty with Russia.

Since the onset of war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the US has supplied more than $27 billion in security assistance to the ex-Soviet republic, including more than 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft rocket systems, 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missile systems and over 1 million 155mm artillery rounds.

"The entire situation in the sphere of security, including arms control, has been held hostage by the US line of inflicting strategic defeat on Russia," Ryabkov said. "We will resist this in the strongest possible way using all the methods and means at our disposal."

Back in November 2022, US-Russia talks on resuming inspections under the New START were cancelled at the last minute. The parties did not agree on a timeframe for new talks.

In its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, the US claimed that "expiration of the Treaty without a follow-on agreement would leave Russia free to expand strategic nuclear forces that are now constrained, as well as novel intercontinental-range and regional systems that are not currently limited by the Treaty." It also alleged that "Russia is pursuing several novel nuclear-capable systems designed to hold the US homeland or Allies and partners at risk, some of which are also not accountable under New START."

Together, the US and Russia still account for about 90 percent of the world's nuclear warheads.

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