In his annual State of the Nation address on February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow Russia is suspending its participation in the US and Russia’s last remaining nuclear arms agreement (New START). New START was signed in 2010, aiming to limit the arsenals of the two powers possessing the most nuclear warheads in the world to a maximum of 1,550 warheads, down nearly 30% from the level set in 2002. In January 2021, President Putin agreed to extend this treaty for 5 years until 2026. Accordingly, each year Moscow and Washington can carry out at most 20 mutual inspections, within the framework of New START.
However, the inspection work within the framework of New START has been paused for nearly three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the deterioration of Russia-US relations. In August 2022, Russia informed the US of its decision to suspend inspection activities in Russia, in response to Western embargoes on Russian aircraft, making it impossible for Moscow to send inspectors to Russia. Moscow also believed that Washington has conducted unannounced inspections and tried to create a unilateral advantage over Russia.
The Russian President stated that Russia suspends the treaty but will not withdraw from New START. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow will continue to comply with the quantitative restrictions set forth by the Treaty, for the duration of its validity, and the suspension is reversible. Despite stressing that Russia will not be the first to resume nuclear testing, President Putin warned that once the US tests nuclear weapons, the Russian Defense Ministry and relevant agencies are ready to do the same. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia will not discuss New START with the US, as long as Washington continues to send arms to Ukraine.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that Russia's decision is regrettable while affirming that the US is ready to discuss limiting strategic weapons at any time with Russia, although the two sides still disagree on several bilateral and international issues. In addition, the US will monitor all moves of Moscow to ensure that in any situation Washington and its allies are in a safe position. Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg also expressed regret and called on Moscow to reconsider the decision.
The New START is considered the final "anchor" to create a legally binding framework for Russia and the US to control each other's nuclear capabilities. In 2002, under the administration of President George W. Bush, the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, after 30 years of implementation. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, the Treaty on Open Skies and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Experts who study international relations fear that the suspension of the New START will spark a new arms race, paralleling the conflict in Ukraine.
A world without nuclear arms control is a far more dangerous, unstable one, with potentially catastrophic consequences, said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. He also noted that the New START and successive bilateral treaties on strategic nuclear arms reduction between Russia and the US have provided security, not only for the two countries but for the entire international community. Therefore, Russia and the US have a responsibility to return to dialogue immediately and continue to fully implement the New START for international security.