Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that Moscow will suspend its participation in the New START treaty — the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the United States.
Putin also said, during his state of the nation address Tuesday, that Russia should stand ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if the U.S. does so, a move that would end a global ban on nuclear weapons tests in place since the end of the Cold War.
He later sent a draft bill on the pact’s suspension to the Kremlin-controlled parliament, which is expected to rubber-stamp it Wednesday. The document says that it will be up to the Russian president to resume Moscow’s participation in the pact.
Putin emphasized that Russia was not withdrawing from the pact altogether, and hours after his address, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the country would respect the caps on nuclear weapons set under the treaty.
Russia also will continue to exchange information about test launches of ballistic missiles per earlier agreements with the United States, the ministry said.
Noting that the decision to suspend Russia’s participation in New START could be reversed, the Foreign Ministry urged the U.S. to de escalate tensions and create a proper environment for the treaty’s implementation.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Putin’s move as “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” noting that “we’ll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does.”
He said that “we’ll, of course, make sure that in any event we are postured appropriately for the security of our own country and that of our allies,” but emphasized that “we remain ready to talk about strategic arms limitations at any time with Russia irrespective of anything else going on in the world or in our relationship.”
“I think it matters that we continue to act responsibly in this area,” Blinken told reporters on a visit to Greece. “It’s also something the rest of the world expects of us.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also voiced regret about Putin’s move, saying that “with today’s decision on New START, full arms control architecture has been dismantled.”
“I strongly encourage Russia to reconsider its decision and respect existing agreements,” he told reporters.
The Russian leader on Tuesday meanwhile mocked NATO’s statement urging Moscow to allow the resumption of the US inspections of Russian nuclear weapons sites as “some kind of theater of the absurd”.
“The drones used for it were equipped and modernized with Nato’s expert assistance,” Putin said.
“And now they want to inspect our defense facilities? In the conditions of today’s confrontation, it sounds like sheer nonsense.”
He described the US push for access to Russian nuclear sites as “the height of hypocrisy and cynicism”.