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US, Russia extend New START nuke arms treaty

New Europe - Kostis Geropoulos, Energy & Russian Affairs Editor

Washington and Moscow to move ahead with strategic stability talks and new phase of arms control

The United States and Russia officially extended the New START nuclear arms-control treaty for five years on February 3.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the extension is a first step on making good on US President Joe Biden’s pledge to keep the American people safe from nuclear threats by restoring US leadership on arms control and nonproliferation.

Russian lawmakers quickly approved the extension of the New START treaty on January 27, a day after a phone call between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin during which they agreed to complete the necessary extension procedures in the next few days.

Extending the New START Treaty ensures the US has verifiable limits on Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers until February 5, 2026, Blinken said on February 3. “The New START Treaty’s verification regime enables us to monitor Russian compliance with the treaty and provides us with greater insight into Russia’s nuclear posture, including through data exchanges and onsite inspections that allow US inspectors to have eyes on Russian nuclear forces and facilities,” he said, adding that the US has assessed Russia to be in compliance with its New START Treaty obligations every year since the treaty entered into force in 2011.

“Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important. Extending the New START Treaty makes the United States, US allies and partners, and the world safer. An unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all,” the new US Secretary of State said.

He noted that Biden has made clear that the New START Treaty extension is only the beginning of the US Administration’s efforts to address 21st century security challenges. Blinken said Washington will use the time provided by a five-year extension of the New START Treaty to pursue with Moscow, in consultation with Congress and US allies and partners, arms control that addresses all of its nuclear weapons. “We will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal. The United States is committed to effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races,” he said.

He stressed, however, that the decision to extend the nuke treaty does not mean that the US is not concerned about Russia. “Just as we engage the Russian Federation in ways that advance American interests, like seeking a five-year extension of New START and broader discussions to reduce the likelihood of crisis and conflict, we remain clear eyed about the challenges that Russia poses to the United States and the world. Even as we work with Russia to advance US interests, so too will we work to hold Russia to account for adversarial actions as well as its human rights abuses, in close coordination with our allies and partners,” Blinken said.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, said with the New START having won a five-year extension, US and Russia need to move ahead with strategic stability talks and new phase of arms control. “These issues being existential, they must be protected from extraneous irritants, such as domestic politics in both countries,” Trenin wrote in a tweet, adding, “There’re other battlefields for that”.

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