The United States has agreed to end verification operations at Russia's Votkinsk Machine Building Plant under a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Washington Times reported today (see GSN, Nov. 30).
The halt to monitoring operations at the missile-manufacturing site was formalized in an undisclosed agreement reached in October, a State Department official told the newspaper (see GSN, Nov. 20).
"U.S. and Russian officials signed on Oct. 20 a series of documents, which establish the procedures to be followed for the completion of U.S. monitoring activities at the Russian ICBM production facility at Votkinsk," the source said.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July to cut their nations' respective deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads, down from the 2,200-weapon limit the states are required to meet by 2012 under another treaty. The leaders also pledged to restrict strategic delivery vehicles on each side to between 500 and 1,100.
In a November 2008 proposal for a START successor agreement, the Bush administration did not call for a continued U.S. presence at the site because Washington had decided "not to limit delivery vehicles," said Paula DeSutter, who served as assistant secretary of state at the time.
When the Obama administration "accepted the START approach to limit both warheads and missiles," a better case emerged for maintaining verification operations at Votkinsk, she said.
"There was nothing in our proposal that precluded the Obama administration from adding Votkinsk or any other verification measure, had they decided to take that approach," DeSutter contended.
Obama administration sources said they are seeking alternative means of confirming Moscow's compliance with the new arms control treaty. Such methods might involve audits, intelligence operations and close scrutiny of Russia's missile exercises, said Arms Control Association head Daryl Kimball.
"How significant [the loss of Votkinsk] is depends on what other monitoring mechanisms will be worked out," Kimball said (Nicholas Kralev, Washington Times, Dec. 1).
The State Department yesterday reaffirmed its expectation that negotiation of the START successor will continue beyond Saturday, when the 1991 agreement is set to expire, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Our negotiators in Geneva ... are working very hard to try and get a draft agreement," said spokesman Ian Kelly. "What we're saying now is that we're hoping to get this draft agreement by the end of December."
Still, Kelly refused to rule out the possibility of the sides reaching agreement on the pact this week. "I cannot rule that out because I know they're all working overtime to try and iron out the differences that remain," he said (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Nov. 30).
A senior Russian legislator expressed more optimism that the negotiations could wrap up this week, RIA Novosti reported.
"Intensive and substantive work of two delegations is continuing on an almost 24-hour basis. There is a clear resolve to achieve a result within the time frames set by the two presidents and linked to the current START treaty's expiration date," said Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Russian parliament's international committee (RIA Novosti, Nov. 30).
Obama and Medvedev discussed the START talks by telephone yesterday, according to ITAR-Tass (ITAR-Tass, Nov. 30). U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle also addressed the talks at a meeting in Moscow yesterday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Interfax reported (Interfax I, Nov. 30).
Meanwhile, one Russian expert expressed concern that arsenal reductions under the START replacement treaty could undermine Moscow's ability to deter aggression by outside powers.
"The Russian strategic nuclear forces will remain capable of dealing a preemptive strike until 2015-17, beyond which the strategic nuclear forces will degrade and the number of warheads available will drop to 1,500. In the meantime, the capabilities of the American missile defense system will triple after 2015," said Pyotr Belov, an analyst with the Academy of Geopolitical Problems (Interfax II, Nov. 30).