Russia says it will play by nuclear treaty rules despite suspending deal with U.S.
- Duma moves swiftly to suspend treaty at Putin's direction
- New START treaty is last surviving nuclear deal with U.S.
- Minister says Russia may take more 'countermeasures'
LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Russia will stick to agreed limits on nuclear missiles and keep informing the United States about changes in its deployments, a senior defence official said on Wednesday, despite the suspension of its last remaining arms control treaty with Washington.
Both chambers of Russia's parliament voted quickly in favour of suspending Moscow's participation in the New START treaty, rubber-stamping a decision that President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday when he accused the West of trying to inflict a "strategic defeat" on Russia in Ukraine.
But a top defence ministry official, Major-General Yevgeny Ilyin, told the lower house, or Duma, that Russia would continue to observe agreed restrictions on nuclear delivery systems - meaning missiles and strategic bomber planes.
RIA news agency quoted Ilyin as saying Moscow would also continue to provide Washington with notifications on nuclear deployments in order "to prevent false alarms, which is important for maintaining strategic stability".
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also sounded a reassuring note. "I do not believe that the decision to suspend the New START Treaty brings us closer to nuclear war," he said, in comments cited by the Interfax news agency.
The assurances suggested that Putin's move would have little immediate practical impact, even if it casts doubt on the long-term future of a treaty designed to reduce nuclear risk by providing a degree of transparency and predictability to both sides.
Putin has a long-track record of trying to wrongfoot and unsettle the West. Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine a year ago, he has repeatedly boasted about Russia's nuclear arsenal and said he would be willing to use it if the country's "territorial integrity" is threatened.
The 2010 New START treaty limits each country's deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 - a level Russia has also said it will continue to observe - and deployed missiles and heavy bombers to 700.
Security analysts say its potential collapse, or failure to replace it when it expires in 2026, could unleash a new arms race at a perilous moment when Putin is increasingly portraying the Ukraine war as a direct confrontation with the West.
Asked in what circumstances Russia would return to the deal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Everything will depend on the position of the West ... When there's a willingness to take into account our concerns, then the situation will change."
Interfax quoted Ryabkov as saying: "We will, of course, be closely monitoring the further actions of the United States and its allies, including with a view to taking further countermeasures, if necessary."
Responding to a CNN report that Russia had unsuccessfully tested its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this week - a weapon able to carry multiple nuclear warheads - Interfax quoted Ryabkov as saying: "You cannot trust everything that appears in the media, especially if the source is CNN."
The suspended treaty gives each side the right to inspect the other’s sites – though visits had been halted since 2020 because of COVID and the Ukraine war – and obliges the parties to provide detailed notifications on the numbers, locations and technical characteristics of their strategic nuclear weapons.
Each has to tell the other, for example, when an intercontinental ballistic missile is about to be transported from a production facility. According to the U.S. State Department, the two sides have exchanged more than 25,000 notifications since the treaty came into force in 2011.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that Russia's announced suspension was "deeply unfortunate and irresponsible". NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it made the world more dangerous, urging Putin to reconsider.
Russia now demands that British and French nuclear weapons targeted against Russia be included in the arms control framework, a position seen as a non-starter for Washington after over half a century of bilateral nuclear treaties with Moscow.
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