House Armed Services Committee Republicans are looking to block the Obama administration from continuing nuclear security work in Russia until the Ukraine crisis has been resolved.
Draft defense authorization bill language released on Monday would bar the use of fiscal 2015 funds by the Energy Department's nuclear security arm "for any contract, cooperation, or transfer of technology" between the United States and Russia, pending specific action by the administration.
For the release of funds, the Energy secretary, in consultation with secretaries of State and Defense, must certify to key congressional committees that "the Russian Federation is respecting the sovereignty of Ukrainian territory," according to the Republican draft bill.
Anne Harrington, the National Nuclear Security Administration's deputy for defense nuclear nonproliferation, told Global Security Newswire last month that U.S. nuclear security work in Russia had resumed, despite disagreements over Moscow's annexation of the Crimea region in Ukraine.
The work -- which includes upgrading the physical security of buildings where sensitive nuclear materials are stored -- had previously been suspended while the United States and Russia hashed out the details of how to implement a new agreement the two nations signed last year.
During the April 8 interview, Harrington said the two sides were able to finalize outstanding details and resume work -- despite tension over the Ukraine situation.
Monday's draft bill language suggests that since then, "in response to ongoing Russian aggression toward Ukraine, the secretary of Energy has suspended nuclear security cooperation" with Russia. It says this apparent suspension should remain in place "so long as Russia continues its aggression toward Ukraine."
Administration officials, however, are suggesting that no such suspension has taken place. NNSA spokesman Derrick Robinson on Monday pointed to an April 10 statement from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that says while the administration is conducting a review of all "Russian-related activities" in light of the Ukraine situation, it has "not announced a decision to suspend nuclear security cooperation with Russia."
The April 10 statement, which says "critical bilateral nuclear nonproliferation activities are continuing in a number of key areas," still applies, according to Robinson.
A House Armed Services Committee spokesman did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
During an April 8 hearing, some committee Republicans suggested the United States should not provide any aid to Russia, and that doing so was tantamount to subsidizing modernization of Moscow's nuclear arms.
Then-Acting NNSA Administrator Bruce Held said at the hearing that the United States spends money on nuclear security projects in Russia not because they are good for Moscow, but because they are important for U.S. national security. NNSA nonproliferation programs are meant to prevent terrorists from obtaining dangerous materials.
The new draft bill wording would also block nuclear security work until Russia complies with certain treaties, including the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Some congressional Republicans accuse Moscow of violating the accord, under which the United States and Russia have agreed not to develop, test or field missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.
The House Armed Service Committee is expected to vote on the draft language on Wednesday.