Time is running out for the New START, and Russia has rejected the Trump administration’s demands to renew this vital arms control treaty, which is set to expire in February 2021. Moscow’s top arms control negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, spoke with The Wall Street Journal about Washington’s demands.
Russia has offered to extend New START for five years with no preconditions, as the treaty allows, but the US has rejected this proposal. The Trump administration offered to temporarily extend the New START if Russia agrees to a framework for a new agreement that would replace it.
The Trump administration’s demands include increased verification, a larger scope on what warheads the treaty limits, and a commitment from Russia that China would be involved. Ryabkov told the Journal that the US demands for a future treaty are “clearly a non-starter for us.”
Moscow has repeatedly told the US that they have no interest in leveraging Beijing into a trilateral arms control agreement. China has made it clear they have no interest in participating in arms control talks since their nuclear arsenal is much smaller than the US and Russia’s.
President Trump’s envoy for the arms control talks, Marshal Billingslea, has threatened Russia that the price to extend New START “will go up” if Moscow does not agree to the terms before the US presidential election. Billingslea has also made it known that the US is prepared to reverse steps it has taken to come into compliance with the New START.
The New START limits the number of warheads each power can have deployed to 1,550. To stay within these limits, the US sealed four launch tubes on its Trident II submarines, and converted some of its B-52H bombers to a non-nuclear role. Billingslea told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that the US would “reverse conversion of our weapons immediately after expiration of the treaty in February.”
Unnamed officials recently told Politico that Billingslea requested the US military to assess how long it would take to pull nuclear weapons out of storage and load them onto bombers and submarines if the New START were to expire. The officials said that in making the request, Billingslea was showing the Russians that the US was serious about letting the treaty lapse.
All of the tough talk and bluster from Billingslea does not seem to be working. Speaking to the Journal on Tuesday, Ryabkov made it clear that Russia has no intention on accepting these conditions. “We are not going to buy this extension of the New START at any price, especially not at the price which the US wants us to pay,” he said. “I think our positions are currently very far apart.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has said he plans to extend the New START and build new treaties on top of that. With the election approaching, Moscow will likely wait and see who wins on November 3rd.
The New START is the last nuclear arms control treaty between the two powers. If it expires, there will be no limit on the US and Russia’s nuclear arsenal.