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Russia May Halt Treaty Verification in Mounting Tit for Tat

Pro-Russian 'self-defense' activists (back and right) clash with a Ukraine supporter in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Sunday. Russian Defense Ministry sources are warning that onsite treaty inspections under the New START accord could be stopped if Washington levies sanctions against Russia for its military occupation of Crimea. Pro-Russian 'self-defense' activists (back and right) clash with a Ukraine supporter in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Sunday. Russian Defense Ministry sources are warning that onsite treaty inspections under the New START accord could be stopped if Washington levies sanctions against Russia for its military occupation of Crimea. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian Defense Ministry sources are warning that New START arms control inspections could become a casualty of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

An unidentified, well placed ministry source told the Russian state news agency ITAR-Tass on Saturday that the ministry was prepared to cease hosting U.S. treaty inspectors in response to the Pentagon's "unjustified" decision to suspend bilateral military cooperation. U.S. officials cut off near-term collaboration with Russia in protest of its occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

"We are ready to take this step in reply to the Pentagon's statement on the suspension of cooperation between the defense ministries of Russia and the United States," the source said.

The 2011 New START accord requires both Russia and the United States by 2018 to reduce their respective nuclear arsenals of deployed long-range weapons to 1,550 apiece and to limit the number of strategic delivery vehicles they hold to 700, with an additional 100 systems permitted in reserve. Each country is allowed up to 18 onsite visits annually of the other nation's territory to verify treaty compliance.

"Since such inspections are a confidence-building measure, there can be no normal regular bilateral contacts on compliance with the treaty now that the U.S. has basically announced 'sanctions,'" the ministry source said. "We take the unjustified U.S. and NATO threats against Russia over its policy with regard to Ukraine as an unfriendly gesture that allows us to declare force majeure."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Moscow has not informed Washington of any decision to freeze New START inspections, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

"We would take very seriously and strongly discourage any Russian decision to cease implementation of its legally binding arms control treaty obligations and other military transparency commitments," Psaki said.

Moscow is angry over American and European warnings of sanctions as punishment for its actions in Ukraine. The Kremlin has issued numerous threats in response, and it has not been easy to determine which warnings to take seriously, according to the newspaper.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a Friday phone conversation that potential new U.S. sanctions on Russia could "backfire," the Associated Press reported.

Lavrov said Washington should not pursue "hasty, poorly thought-out steps that could harm Russia-U.S. relations, especially concerning sanctions, which would unavoidably boomerang on the U.S. itself," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Saturday said that obvious threats by NATO and Washington underlined the importance of modernizing the Russian military, RIA Novosti reported.

"A hope that after the overt threats by the U.S. and NATO nobody will doubt the necessity of rearming our army and fleet and of reviving our defense industry and military science," Rogozin said in a post to his Facebook page.

President Obama on Saturday conferred with the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia about the security situation in Ukraine. The Baltic countries have been particularly unnerved by Russia's recent military moves, leading Washington to boost its military presence in the region.

"The President reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to our collective defense commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty and our enduring support for the security and democracy of our Baltic allies," the White House said in statement summarizing the conference call. "The Baltic leaders welcomed the provision of additional support to NATO’s Baltic air policing mission, and the leaders agreed to continue coordinating their efforts closely."

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