Russia blames nuclear talks pullout on 'toxic' U.S. behaviour

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attends a meeting of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Moscow, Russia March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Pool
  • Russia accuses U.S. of 'pathological' desire to hurt it
  • Spokeswoman says U.S. manipulating key arms treaty
  • Says talks postponed this week could be held in 2023

LONDON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Russia accused the United States on Tuesday of toxic anti-Russian behaviour that it said had prompted it to pull out of nuclear arms talks with U.S. officials in Cairo this week.

In strongly worded comments, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also accused the United States of trying to manipulate the New START nuclear treaty to its advantage, although she said Russia was still committed to it.

As the last surviving arms pact of its kind between the world's two biggest nuclear powers, New START limits the number of atomic warheads that each side can deploy and has symbolic as well as practical significance.

Zakharova wrote on Telegram that Russia's decision to postpone the arms talks, which had been scheduled to start on Tuesday, had been driven by the dire state of relations between the two countries.

"In all areas, we note the highest level of toxicity and hostility from Washington," she said. "As part of the all-out hybrid war unleashed against us, almost every U.S. step towards Russia is subject to a pathological desire to harm our country wherever possible."

Relations between Russia and the United States have plunged to their most confrontational point in 60 years since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, triggering waves of U.S. sanctions against Moscow and tens of billions of dollars' worth of economic and military aid from Washington to Kyiv.

Officials from the two countries had been due to meet in Egypt to discuss issues around New START, including the potential resumption of inspections of each other's nuclear arsenals, a process suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zakharova on Tuesday accused Washington of trying to alter the balance of forces under the treaty in a "wholly illegitimate" way by converting or renaming weapons to take them outside the scope of the agreement.

She did not provide examples or evidence.

Still, Russia continued to regard New START as an important tool for ensuring predictability and avoiding an arms race, she said, adding she hoped that the two sides could meet on these issues in 2023.

After Russia pulled out of the talks on Monday, the U.S. State Department said it was "ready to reschedule at the earliest possible date as resuming inspections is a priority for sustaining the treaty as an instrument of stability".

No major breakthrough had been expected at the Cairo talks, but their scheduling had been interpreted as a sign that both countries were committed to maintaining at least some level of dialogue at a moment of extreme tension.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow is willing to use all means, including nuclear weapons, to defend what it regards as Russian territory. In September he unilaterally proclaimed four partly occupied Ukrainian regions to be part of Russia, in an action denounced as illegal by Kyiv, the United States and most countries at the U.N. General Assembly.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said the world is closer to "Armageddon" than at any time since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Writing by Mark Trevelyan Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Chief writer on Russia and CIS. Worked as a journalist on 7 continents and reported from 40+ countries, with postings in London, Wellington, Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin. Covered the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Security correspondent from 2003 to 2008. Speaks French, Russian and (rusty) German and Polish.