Arms control proponents say Russia's annexation of Crimea has essentially killed any prospect of a U.S. tactical nuclear arms withdrawal from Europe.
The United States is understood to field approximately 180 U.S. B-61 gravity bombs at six bases in five NATO countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. The weapons are a holdover from the Cold War. Arms control advocates argue the tactical arms serve little military value and should be pulled back as a show of good faith to Moscow.
Russia is estimated to deploy within its own borders roughly 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons within range of NATO nations.
The Obama administration at one point proposed talks with Russia aimed at further reducing nuclear weapons that would include these nonstrategic arms. However, the souring of relations between the two former Cold War foes had already dampened hopes for a new round of arms control talks with Russia, even before this month's events in Ukraine.
Arms control proponents now acknowledge there is almost no chance of progress in the near term on the NATO tactical arms issue, the London Guardian reported on Sunday.
"The debate over withdrawing nuclear weapons from European NATO air bases is over for the foreseeable future," said George Perkovich, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program. "This will pose some dilemmas for the Dutch, Belgians, Germans and others who have parties that want them out."
"The Ukraine crisis will only amplify voices of those against any move on the B-61, from Eastern Europe in particular," said Ian Kearns, who leads the European Leadership Network, an entity comprised of ex-senior government leaders who support disarmament.
Related arguments by Western arms control supporters against modernizing NATO states' ability to deliver the B-61 by aircraft are also expected to be weakened by the recent events with Russia, said Paul Ingram, the executive director of the British-American Security Information Council.
"I have little doubt that for the moment at least the political opposition towards spending on updating the [dual-capable aircraft] will be weakened by this action," Ingram said. "And that could be all it takes to tip the balance."