A year after the Ukraine war began, Russia suspended the last remaining nuclear weapons disarmament agreement with the United States. Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin announced in Moscow on Tuesday: "Russia is suspending its participation in the New Start Treaty." The agreement, concluded in 2010, has been the subject of renewed debate in recent months after it was extended at the last minute in February 2021 before it expired.
With their signing of the disarmament agreement, Washington and Moscow committed themselves to reducing their nuclear warheads to a maximum of 1550 each and to limit their launchers and heavy bombers to a maximum of 800. The contract also allowed both parties to carry out on-site verification visits.
The signing of the New Start Agreement in Prague in 2010 was seen as a central building block in the efforts of then US President Barack Obama to achieve a "fresh start" in relations with Moscow. More than ten years after Obama and his former counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed the agreement, relations between Moscow and Washington are now characterized by a confrontation not seen since the Cold War.
Tensions between the two nuclear powers had already escalated in the previous years – from the US accusation of Russian interference in the US presidential election campaign, to large-scale cyber attacks on US facilities, to criticism of the Russian authorities’ increasingly brutal treatment of government critics and the Ukraine conflict.
Under ex-President Donald Trump, the United States reduced its overall disarmament agreements with Russia and withdrew from both the INF treaty on medium-range nuclear disarmament and the Open Skies treaty on air arms control. In the negotiations for an extension of the New Start agreement, Trump unsuccessfully advocated China's involvement.
After the change of government in Washington, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called on the Kremlin and the US government to extend the New Start agreement and agree on further reductions in their nuclear arsenals. The new US President Joe Biden spoke out in favor of it. The Russian Duma finally approved a law proposed by Putin that gave the green light to extend the New Start agreement by five years - just days before the agreement would have expired in February 2021.
Even before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Washington and Moscow had become increasingly hostile. Nevertheless, even after Russia started the war, the USA tried to uphold the disarmament agreement. But Moscow canceled its participation in arms control talks, and the United States hoped to resume inspections as part of New Start.
Moscow announced in August that it would suspend US inspections of its military sites as part of New Start. Moscow was reacting to the alleged obstruction of Russian inspections by the USA.
Most recently, Moscow accused the United States of "destroying" the Start Disarmament Agreement. In early February, the Kremlin accused the US of violating the treaty and destroying "the legal framework in the field of disarmament and security."
Moscow assured that it had "impeccably" adhered to the agreement and will continue to do so. Three days before the anniversary of the start of the Ukraine war, Putin suspended the agreement on Tuesday - and threatened new nuclear weapons tests if Washington did so first.
A suspension of the agreement massively increases the risk of an uncontrolled arms race. That would be a high risk for Russia because an arms race costs a lot of money. The Soviet Union once experienced this painfully. The arms race at that time contributed to the end of the USSR.