By Caden Pearson
The United States has halted the exchange of key information on its nuclear arsenal with Russia, citing Moscow’s decision to suspend its participation in the New START treaty.
The United States had offered to continue providing biannual nuclear weapons data with Russia under the faltering New START treaty even after Moscow suspended its participation in February.
However, Russian officials have informed Washington that they won’t be sharing their data with the United States, according to White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
“Since they have refused to be compliant with that particular modality of New START, we have decided to likewise not share that data,” Kirby said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.
“We would prefer to be able to do that,” he added. “But it requires them to be willing as well.”
The New START nuclear arms pact between the United States and Russia limits the number of nuclear weapons allowed for each nation and authorizes inspections of facilities and stockpiles to promote safety and stability.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended its participation with the inspections part of the treaty in February, accusing Washington of seeking the defeat of his country in Ukraine.
Putin said during his state-of-the-nation address on Feb. 23 that Moscow was suspending its participation because Russia can’t accept a U.S. inspection of its nuclear sites under the pact at a time when Washington and its NATO allies openly seek Russia’s defeat in Ukraine.
Putin previously emphasized that Moscow was not withdrawing from the pact altogether, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said the country would respect the caps on nuclear weapons set under the treaty and keep notifying the United States about test launches of ballistic missiles.
“As of today, Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty,” Putin said in the national address. “We’re not withdrawing from the agreement,” he added. “We’re just suspending our participation in it.”
The New START agreement, which was established in 2010 and is set to expire in 2026, facilitated the sharing of data on the technical characteristics, locations, and number of weapon systems and facilities, as well as regular updates and notifications, according to the Department of State.
Following its initial signing by presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, the New START treaty limited each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers.
The treaty also calls for on-site inspections to ensure compliance, though these have been suspended since 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite plans to resume the inspections in November last year, Russia abruptly cancelled them.
The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation estimates that Russia currently possesses about 5,977 nuclear warheads, while the United States has roughly 5,550 warheads, and together they are responsible for approximately 90 percent of the world’s existing nuclear warheads.
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed a five-year extension of the treaty.
The United States’ decision comes days after Putin announced on March 25 that Moscow would move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, the first time Russians would base nuclear weapons outside of their borders since 1996.
The move is seen as a warning to Ukraine and allied Western nations as they continue to provide military and financial support to Kyiv.
The European Union threatened more sanctions in response.
Relocating the weapons to Belarus raises the stakes in the Ukrainian conflict by bringing them nearer to the front lines and the borders of NATO.
Putin’s decision was triggered by the UK’s decision to provide Ukraine with depleted uranium armor-piercing shells, which are widely considered to be toxic. He argued that the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is no different than the United States storing nukes in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, and Turkey.
Tactical nuclear weapons are short-range and primarily intended for use on the battlefield. They have a low yield compared with the more powerful nuclear warheads, which are carried by long-range missiles.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were once nuclear weapons within the borders of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, but they have since been returned to Russia.
The Biden administration said it would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s decision, but Kirby noted that there hadn’t been “any indication that he’s made good on this pledge, or moved any nuclear weapons around.”
In February, China unveiled a “12-point” proposal aimed at securing a ceasefire in Ukraine, although the plan was largely disregarded in the West as a ploy to provide Putin with more time to wage war against Ukraine.
The proposal is criticized for its lack of detailed measures and its failure to require Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, which is a key demand from Kyiv and the United States for any peace negotiations to take place.
Byran Jung contributed to this report.