Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that the Russian Federation will be withdrawing from the New START nuclear treaty with the US, abandoning the final diplomatic agreement which regulated stockpiling and deployment of nuclear weapons between the two powers.
Putin made his announcement as part of his State of the Nation address to the Federal Assembly, which was held just three days ahead of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the Russian President continues to call a “special military operation”.
“The United States and NATO are directly saying that their goal is to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia,” Putin said in his speech. “Are they going to inspect our defense facilities, including the newest ones, as if nothing had happened? A week ago, for example, I signed a decree on putting new ground-based strategic missile systems on combat duty. They’re going to stick their nose in there, too. Do they really think we’re easily going to let them in there just like that?”
Putin insinuated that NATO countries pretend as if there was no connection between the New START treaty and the Ukrainian conflict, and “other hostile actions of the West against our country,” continuing the Kremlin narrative that Russia is fighting “the collective West” in Ukraine, and that the country was attacked by the West and is merely defending itself in Ukraine.
“As well as there is no connection with loud statements that they want to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” said Putin. “This is the utmost hypocrisy and cynicism, or the utmost of stupidity. But they cannot be called idiots. They are not stupid people after all. They want to inflict a strategic defeat on us and want to get into our nuclear facilities.”
The New START treaty was signed between the United States and Russia in 2010, with the goal to limit and reduce their respective strategic nuclear weapons. It replaced the previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that expired in 2009.
Under the New START treaty, both countries agreed to limit their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 and deployed delivery systems to 700. The treaty also includes a verification regime that allows both parties to monitor and verify compliance with the agreed-upon limits. As part of this regime, the two countries could perform inspections of the other side’s nuclear inventory and their delivery vehicles – strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The New START treaty was significant because it is one of the few remaining agreements that regulate the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. It promotes stability and predictability in the relationship between the two countries and reduces the risk of nuclear war. Additionally, the treaty’s verification regime increases transparency and reduces the possibility of misunderstandings or miscommunications between the two countries.
European Union’s High Representative Josep Borrell said in an official statement that the EU considers the treaty a crucial contribution to international and European security. “By increasing predictability and mutual confidence amongst the two largest nuclear weapon States, this Treaty limits strategic competition and increases strategic stability,” said Borrell.
“Suspension of the Treaty or its expiration without a proper follow-on agreement would undermine the European security architecture and substantially set back arms control efforts, which is not in the interest of any of the States parties to New START, neither of any other country,” said Borrell.
Analysts believe that Putin’s withdrawal from the New START represents a further step in the escalation of Moscow’s nuclear posturing, which Russia has been using as a diplomatic weapon ever since the start of the war in Ukraine, attempting to discourage western support for Ukraine by deterring arms shipments through the threat of potential nuclear escalation.
As most of the western governments are no longer afraid of “crossing red lines” in their deliveries of weapons systems to Ukraine, as evidenced by the recent decision to send modern main battle tanks to Kyiv, Moscow likely felt compelled to escalate its nuclear rhetoric.
The problem is that Moscow’s withdrawal from the treaty carries significant risks in addition to escalating the verbal threats, as the treaty was also designed to facilitate communication and promote mutual trust between the two nuclear powers. Its abandonment represents a return to Cold War-era uncertainties which raise the chances of an accidental nuclear escalation due to mistakes or misunderstandings. While seeking to make Russia appear stronger, Putin has again made the world a little less safe.