Russia will continue to observe limits on the number of nuclear warheads it can deploy under the New START treaty despite Moscow’s decision to suspend participation in the landmark agreement, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
President Vladimir Putin announced the suspension during a speech to both houses of the Russian parliament in which he also repeated accusations that the West was seeking to destroy Russia.
Under the treaty, signed in 2010 and extended until 2026, Moscow and Washington committed to deploying no more than 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads and a maximum of 700 long-range missiles and bombers.
“In order to maintain a sufficient degree of predictability and stability in the sphere of nuclear missiles, Russia intends to adhere to a responsible approach and will continue to strictly observe the quantitative restrictions provided for by the New START treaty within the life cycle of the treaty,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also said it would continue to notify the United States of planned test launches of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The United States, NATO, as well as other nuclear powers Britain and France criticised Putin’s decision, announced nearly a year since he ordered the invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in what has become the biggest confrontation with the West in six decades. Western allies have provided billion of dollars in military and other aid to Ukraine.
In its statement, the ministry blamed the United States for Russia’s decision to suspend the treaty, accusing Washington of being in non-compliance with its provisions and of trying to undermine Russia’s national security.
“There is every reason to state that U.S. policy is aimed at undermining Russia’s national security, which directly contradicts the fundamental principles and understandings enshrined in the preamble of the treaty,” the foreign ministry said.
Moscow said the fundamental geopolitical realities that underpinned the signing of the treaty 13 years ago had changed. It said the provisions had become one-sided, favouring the United States, and that Washington had found ways to violate its central limits on the number of nuclear warheads that can be deployed.
Inspections of nuclear arsenals allowed for under New START were suspended in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Russia cancelled talks scheduled in Cairo last November on the resumption of mutual inspections by Russian and U.S. teams.
Despite the suspension, Moscow said it was not opposed to resuming participation should the United States’ policy towards Moscow change.
“The decision to suspend participation in New START can be reversed. To do this, Washington must show the political will and make good-faith efforts for general de-escalation,” the foreign ministry said.
“We are convinced that the potential of the treaty in terms of its contribution to strengthening international security and strategic stability is far from exhausted.”
Putin emphasised in Tuesday’s speech that Russia was only suspending, not terminating, its participation in the treaty.
Russia and the United States together hold 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads.
Europe, the United States and Ukraine have repeatedly accused Putin of dangerous nuclear sabre-rattling throughout the war in Ukraine, but before Tuesday’s speech, he had appeared to dial down his nuclear rhetoric in recent months.