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United States extends nuclear treaty with Russia for five years

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration remained “clear eyed” on the challenges Russia poses.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration remained “clear eyed” on the challenges Russia poses. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The United States formally extended a critical nuclear accord with Russia on Wednesday for five years, opting to prolong limits on the arsenals of both nations two days before the treaty’s expiration date and bringing a measure of stability to U.S.-Russia relations on nuclear matters.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the extension of the New START accord ensures verifiable limits will remain on Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launch ballistic missiles and heavy bombers until 2026, and keeps in place a mutual verification regime that gives the United States greater insight into Russia’s nuclear posture.

“Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important,” Blinken said. “Extending the New START Treaty makes the United States, U.S. allies and partners, and the world safer. An unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all.”

The extension by Washington comes five days after the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a bill prolonging the pact with the United States.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Wednesday that notes had been exchanged confirming the extension of the treaty for five years.

“Considering the special responsibilities that Russia and the U.S. carry as the world’s largest nuclear nations, the decision taken is important as it guarantees a necessary level of predictability and transparency in this area, while strictly maintaining a balance of interests,” the ministry said.

Brokered by President Barack Obama and Russia’s then-president Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, New START came into effect the following year. It limits each nation to deploying 700 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers with nuclear weapons. It also limits both nations to deploying 1,550 nuclear warheads on those platforms.

The agreement included a five-year extension clause that allowed both nations to extend the pact with approval from both presidents. Had the United States and Russia not extended the pact, the world would have returned to an era without substantive, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear powers for the first time in decades.

In his statement, Blinken said the United States had assessed Russia to be in compliance with its New START obligations every year since the treaty entered into force in 2011.

Blinken said the United States will now set about pursuing an arms-control agreement with the Kremlin that regulates all of Russia’s nuclear weapons. Russia retains a significant arsenal of “battlefield” or “tactical” nuclear weapons, smaller arms that fall outside the confines of New START.

“We will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal,” Blinken said. “The United States is committed to effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races.”

In its final months, the Trump administration tried to broker a trilateral arms-control deal with Russia and China, but the effort failed after Beijing refused to take part in the discussions.

The Trump administration also told Russia that it would extend New START only on certain conditions, including a commitment by Russia toward addressing its entire nuclear arsenal and getting China involved in arms-control efforts.

Late last year, the Trump administration neared a deal with Russia to freeze the number of nuclear warheads on each side and extend New START for one year, pending a new agreement that would expand the treaty, but the deal fell apart.

Before his election as president, Joe Biden in his campaign platform had already committed to extending New START without condition, which made the Kremlin unlikely to agree to a deal with additional stipulations by the Trump administration until after the Nov. 3 election.

In his statement Wednesday, Blinken said that despite engagement with Russia on nuclear matters and other issues of mutual interest, the Biden administration remained “clear eyed” on the challenges Russia poses to the United States and the world.

“Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, so too will we work to hold Russia to account for adversarial actions as well as its human rights abuses, in close coordination with our allies and partners,” Blinken said.

The top U.S. diplomat has called on Russia to release opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was sentenced Tuesday by Russian authorities to two years and eight months in a penal colony, amid protests across Russia calling for his release.

In its statement Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed hope that the extension of New START will be the end of “the trend towards dismantling arms control and nonproliferation mechanisms, so prevalent in recent years due to U.S. destructive policies.”

The Trump administration pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, citing Russian violations of the pact. Last year, the Trump administration also left the Open Skies Treaty, which was designed to reduce the chances of an accidental war by allowing mutual reconnaissance flights, also citing Russian violations.

“Significant steps would be required to return our bilateral dialogue in this area back to a more stable trajectory, reach new substantial results which would strengthen our national security and global strategic stability,” the Russian foreign ministry said. “Russia is ready to do its part. We urge the U.S. to apply a similarly responsible approach and to respond to our initiatives in a constructive manner.”