President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had suspended its participation in the New START nuclear armament treaty with the United States, after accusing the West of being directly involved in attempts to achieve the its strategic air bases.
“I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the Strategic Offensive Weapons Treaty,” he said.
What is the New START treaty?
Ratified in 2010 by then US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, the New START treaty limits the number of nuclear warheads that the US and Russia can deploy.
It entered into force in 2011 and in 2021 – after Joe Biden took over the US presidency – it was extended for another five years. The treaty allows the US and Russia to mutually monitor compliance.
Through this agreement, Moscow and Washington undertake not to install more than 1500 strategic nuclear warheads and to limit long-range missiles and bombers to up to 700.
In order to ensure that the counterpart does not violate the limits of the treaty, each country can carry out, per year, up to 18 field inspections of the other’s strategic nuclear weapons.
However, due to the covid-19 pandemic, in March 2020 these inspections were put on hold.
In November, Moscow and Washington were supposed to meet in Egypt to resume these inspections, but Russia postponed the talks and neither party set a new date.
Has Russia threatened to leave before?
Earlier this month, Russia said it wanted to preserve the treaty — despite calling the US approach to arms control destructive.
Together, Russia and the US own about 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, with both sides stressing that a war between nuclear powers must be avoided at all costs.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought the two countries closer to a direct confrontation than they have been in the last 60 years.
The US has accused Russia of violating the treaty by not allowing inspections on its territory, while Moscow has warned that the West’s determination to “defeat” Russia could mean the treaty will not be renewed when it expires in 2026.
What happens now?
Last year, Russia said the danger of a nuclear conflict was real and should not be underestimated, but must be avoided at all costs.
After years of tension during a Cold War that almost led to accidents, both the US and Russia have procedures in place to ensure that their nuclear missiles are not accidentally used.
However, fears of a nuclear confrontation have been growing since the invasion of Ukraine. Putin reminded the world of the size and power of Moscow’s arsenal, saying he was still ready to use all means necessary to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity”.