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U.S. accuses Russia of not complying with key nuclear arms treaty

A Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is test-fired from a launch site in Plesetsk, Russia. (AP)
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The United States on Tuesday accused Russia of not complying with its obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the only remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.

The State Department said Russia is refusing to facilitate inspections on its territory as required under the treaty. The United States remains committed to restoring compliance with the accord, it said.

“All Russia needs to do is allow inspection activities on its territory, just as it did for years under New START, and meet in a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission,” the department said in a statement Tuesday. “There is nothing preventing Russian inspectors from traveling to the United States and conducting inspections.”

The allegations of noncompliance come months after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend the Ukrainian territory that Russia has illegally annexed. Western leaders later said the threat level appeared to have been reduced.

The demise of New START would mark the near-total collapse of the nuclear nonproliferation architecture that the United States and the Soviet Union, and then Russia, built in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Russian Ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said in a statement Wednesday that the situation around New Start is “a direct result of the hybrid war unleashed by the West against our country."

“We have warned that arms control cannot be isolated from geopolitical realities,” he said, adding that it was "unjustified, untimely and inappropriate to invite the U.S. military to our strategic facilities.”

He added that Russia still sees the treaty as a useful tool for maintaining stability between the nuclear powers.

At the start of the Biden administration, the United States agreed with Russia to extend the treaty for five years, or until February 2026. But relations between the two powers have sharply deteriorated since the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

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Regular inspections required by the treaty have not been held for at least three years, at first due to the coronavirus pandemic, but later because of worsening relations between Moscow and Washington.

In August, Russia suspended American inspectors’ access to its nuclear arsenal, though the Kremlin asserted it was still committed to complying with other treaty provisions, Reuters reported.

That month, President Biden said he was willing to negotiate a new arms control deal to replace New START upon its expiration, but he expressed doubt that Moscow would be a “willing partner” as it wreaked devastation throughout Ukraine.

Russia unilaterally postponed a meeting with U.S. officials about the treaty in November. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the meeting was canceled, “taking into account the extremely negative situation in Russian American relations that was created by Washington.”

The New START accord — which was signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev — regulates the number and nature of nuclear arms each power may deploy. It also outlines mutual inspections and regular data exchanges on warheads and delivery mechanisms. It includes an agreement to notify each other about the status of some ballistic missiles.