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Russia says notifications of ballistic missile launches will continue

A Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launcher parades through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2022. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Russian Foreign Ministry clarified Thursday that Moscow will continue to notify Washington of any ballistic missile launches, despite a statement Wednesday that “all forms of notifications” were terminated as a result of President Vladimir Putin suspending the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement.

In February, during a speech marking the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin announced that he was “suspending” participation in New START, which is the last remaining arms control agreement between the United States and Russia.

But since then, the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued several seemingly contradictory statements.

On the same day as Putin’s speech, the ministry issued a statement saying that Russia would voluntarily adhere to some core components of New START, including its limits on the total number of certain types of nuclear weapons.

“To maintain the necessary level of predictability and stability in the nuclear missile area, Russia will take a prudent approach and will continue to strictly comply with the quantitative restrictions stipulated in the treaty for strategic offensive armaments within the life cycle of the treaty,” the ministry said. “Russia will also continue to exchange notifications of [intercontinental ballistic missile] and [submarine-launched ballistic missile] launches with the United States in accordance with the relevant Soviet-U.S. agreement signed in 1988.”

That 1988 agreement, officially known as the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement, requires Washington and Moscow to notify each other in advance of ballistic missile tests. It is separate from New START.

On Wednesday, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, appeared to backtrack again. He said “all forms of notifications, all data exchange, all inspection activities, in general, all types of work under the treaty are suspended.”

But on Thursday, Ryabkov issued yet another clarification. He said that while Moscow had suspended “every kind of information exchange, as well as other elements of verification activity deriving from the New START Treaty within the treaty’s framework,” notifications of ballistic missile launches would continue.

“The Russian Federation will still voluntarily honor the principal qualitative limits on strategic weapons set by the treaty, and will continue to fulfill the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement of 1988,” Ryabkov said.

In February, Putin said that Russia would not “withdraw” completely from the treaty, which had previously been extended to run through Feb. 4, 2026, but that Russia would not allow NATO countries to inspect its nuclear arsenal.

Ryabkov said Thursday that Russia had informed the United States about its suspension of New START. “We have relayed our stance to them both orally and in writing, in the form of a memo from the Foreign Ministry. There is no ambiguity, understatement, nothing like that,” Ryabkov told reporters.

After Ryabkov’s comments Wednesday, the Biden administration said it had not received any notice indicating a change to the 1988 agreement.

“Of course, we have across the board been concerned about Russia’s reckless behavior as it relates to the New START Treaty, but specifically on Mr. Ryabkov’s remarks, we have not received any notice indicating a change,” said Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman.

New START, a cornerstone of nuclear deterrence between Russia and United States, placed “verifiable limits” on the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads deployed by each country.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has frequently turned to nuclear saber-rattling in response to Western criticism or announcements of support for Ukraine. Russian officials have threatened nuclear strikes against Ukraine if it attempts to recapture the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed illegally in 2014.

On Saturday, Putin announced plans to store tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, a move that Western partners said was “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”

Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.

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