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Russia Halts Participation in New START Nuclear Treaty

By Vusala Abbasova February 24, 2023

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Putin emphasized that Russia was not withdrawing from the pact altogether. / Mikhail Metzel / Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the decision to suspend Russia’s participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, the single remaining nuclear arms treaty with the US.

In his state of the nation address on Tuesday, the Russian president accused the West of openly declaring its goal of defeating Russia in Ukraine. Yet, President Putin made it clear that Moscow will resume nuclear weapons tests if the US does so.  The move only added to tensions between the two nuclear powers amid the ongoing fighting in Ukraine.

“Our relations have degraded, and that’s completely and utterly the US's fault,” Putin said during his annual address. “If the US conducts tests, then so will we. Nobody should have any illusions that global strategic parity can be destroyed.”

In his speech, President Putin recalled that the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) calls on Russia to continue implementing the treaty on strategic offensive weapons, including the admission of inspections of nuclear defence facilities of Russia.

“We know that the West is directly involved in the attempts of the Kyiv regime to strike at the bases of our strategic aircraft. The drones used for this were equipped and modernised with the assistance of NATO specialists. And so now they also want to inspect our defence facilities?” said Putin, calling NATO’s request a “delusion.”

Putin emphasized that Russia was not withdrawing from the pact altogether and he noted that Moscow would respect the caps on nuclear weapons set under the treaty, but asserted that it would not allow NATO countries to inspect its nuclear arsenal. In addition, he claimed that the alliance is helping Ukraine conduct drone strikes on Russian air bases that host strategic bombers, which are part of the country’s nuclear forces.

Russian authorities have repeatedly criticized western nations for their military assistance to Ukraine, arguing that the aid is not only fueling the conflict but also boosting the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and NATO powers.

In addition, Moscow has long been accusing the West of provoking the conflict with the expansion of NATO and the deployment of its weapon systems in close vicinity to Russian territories.

Putin’s announcement has alarmed Western officials over the worsening of nuclear disarmament efforts, at a time when tensions between the United States and Russia have extremely soared following what Russia calls a “special military operation” launched in Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Commenting on Putin’s decision, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that he regretted the move to suspend Russia’s participation in the new START Treaty and warned that “the whole arms control architecture has been dismantled,” encouraging Russia to reconsider its decision.

The New START treaty limits all deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons by Russia and the US and requires both countries to allow on-site inspections of their nuclear weapons-related facilities by the other. Originally signed by former US President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, the treaty was extended by five years in February 2021 during the first weeks of Joe Biden’s presidency. Currently, it is the only one left regulating the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world.

The mutual inspections of nuclear weapons-related facilities were paused in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and formally suspended by Moscow in August 2022, after Washington attempted to resume the inspections. The Kremlin back then claimed that the tough confrontation between Russia and the United States over the war in Ukraine had hampered similar tours of US facilities by Russia. Russia’s Foreign Ministry explained that the ban on flights from Russia to the US and allied countries and visa restrictions made it impossible for Russian inspectors to travel to the US.