Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday announced that Moscow is suspending its participation in New START, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia.
“In this regard, I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty,” Putin said in a state of the nation address delivered to Russia’s Federal Assembly.
New START was first signed in 2010 by then-President Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who now serves as the deputy chair of the Russian Security Council, and replaced the START I Treaty that was signed in 1991.
New START came into force in 2011 and caps the deployment of nuclear warheads at 1,550. It also places limits on the deployment of launchers, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.
New START was set to expire in February 2021, but Putin and President Biden agreed in January 2021 to extend the agreement by five years. According to the State Department, inspections under the treaty have been suspended since March 2020 due to Covid-19.
Explaining his reasoning for suspending the treaty, Putin said it was signed at a time when the US was less hostile. He also wants to address the issue of the UK and France’s nuclear weapons, which are part of NATO’s arsenal, although both countries have significantly smaller arsenals than the US and Russia.
“Before we return to discussing this agreement, we must understand for ourselves what the intentions of countries like France and the UK are and how we will consider their strategic arsenals as well, which is the cumulative striking potential of NATO,” Putin said, according to RT.
Putin’s move is the result of the lack of diplomacy between the US and Russia. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has only held one known call with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, since Russia launched the invasion on February 24, 2022, and the discussion was focused on a prisoner swap, not the war or arms control.
The two countries were engaged in arms control talks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the US canceled the negotiations. After months of refusing to engage with Russia on the issue, the US eventually agreed to hold talks on New START in November 2022, but Russia pulled out at the last minute.
Arms control between the US and Russia had been crumbling for years as Washington withdrew from key treaties. In 2019, the Trump administration pulled out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers.
Putin mentioned the INF withdrawal in his speech on Tuesday. “The whole world witnessed how they withdrew from fundamental agreements on weapons, including the treaty on intermediate and shorter-range missiles, unilaterally tearing up the fundamental agreements that maintain world peace,” he said.
The Trump administration also withdrew from the Open Skies treaty, which allowed unarmed surveillance flights over participating countries. Russia tried to salvage the treaty with the Biden administration but had no success. The administration told Moscow it wouldn’t rejoin Open Skies.
In his speech, Putin vowed to fight on in Ukraine and blamed the US and its allies for provoking the war by expanding NATO and supporting the 2014 coup that ousted former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. He said the Western provision of longer-range weapons would result in Ukraine losing more territory.
“The longer the range of the Western systems being brought to Ukraine, the farther away from our borders we will be forced to push the threat,” Putin said. He mentioned statements from Western officials calling for the “strategic defeat” of Russia.
“This means they plan to finish us once and for all. In other words, they plan to grow a local conflict into a global confrontation. This is how we understand it and we will respond accordingly, because this represents an existential threat to our country,” Putin said.
According to Russian officials, Russia’s military doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons if the state of Russia faces an “existential threat.”