by Ilya Tsukanov, Sputnik News
The Russian president made the announcement during the course of a major annual address to lawmakers on Tuesday that focused on the security crisis in Ukraine and the broader global tensions between the West and Russia.
Russia will be suspending its participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction (New START) Treaty, President Vladimir Putin has announced.
“They [the West] seek to inflict a strategic defeat on us and to creep onto our nuclear sites. In connection with this, I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the New START Treaty. I repeat – not exiting from the treaty, but suspending its participation,” Putin said, speaking to gathered lawmakers in Moscow during his speech to the Federal Assembly.
Putin explained that “at the start of February, the North Atlantic Alliance made a statement factually demanding that Russia ‘return to the implementation of the strategic offensive arms treaty,’ including the admission of inspections to our nuclear and defense facilities.”
“I don’t even know what to call this – some kind of theater of the absurd. We know that the West is involved directly in attempts of the Kiev regime to strike the bases of our strategic aviation,” Putin said, pointing to recent Ukrainian drone attacks on Russia’s Engels Air Base, home to part of the airborne contingent of Russia’s nuclear triad.
The drones used in these attacks were “equipped and modernized with the assistance of NATO specialists,” Putin said. “And now they want to inspect our defense facilities. In the current conditions and today’s confrontation, this simply sounds like some kind of nonsense.”
“A week ago, I signed a decree putting new ground-based strategic weapons systems on combat duty. Are they going to stick their nose in there too?” Putin asked.
The Russian president suggested that NATO’s collective statement essentially amounted to an application to join the New START Treaty, and said Moscow would only welcome such a move.
“We agree, please go ahead. Furthermore, we think that such a formulation of the issue is long overdue. After all, NATO contains not just one nuclear power – the USA. Britain and France also have nuclear arsenals, which are being developed and improved, and which are also directed against us, against Russia,” Putin said.
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Slamming the US and NATO over the “hypocrisy” of their demands, Putin recalled how the Western bloc has attempted to assure Moscow that “there is no connection between issues related to strategic offensive arms and, say, the conflict in Ukraine, or other hostile actions against our country, while at the same time seeking to “defeat” Russia militarily.
“This is either the height of hypocrisy and cynicism, or the height of stupidity. You can’t call them idiots, they are not stupid people: they want to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” the president said.
Transcript of Vladimir Putin’s televised address to the Federal Assembly.
What is New START and Why Is It Important?
The New START Treaty is the last major strategic arms limitation agreement between the nuclear superpowers – Russia and the United States. The agreement, drafted in 2009 and signed by then-Russian and US Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in Prague, Czech Republic in 2010, limits the two countries’ deployed arsenals of strategic weapons and nuke stockpiles, and features a series of measures aimed at increased transparency and trust, including the broadcast of telemetry data, limits to missile testing activities, and the exchange of other information.
The Trump administration threatened to let the clock run out on New START in late 2020 after withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – a late Cold War-era pact which eliminated Soviet and US ground-based nuclear missiles in the 500-5,500 km range, in 2019. The Biden administration agreed to renew New START for five years in early 2021. Pentagon planners have repeatedly criticized the strategic treaty for its failure to account for the nuclear arsenal of China. Beijing has said that it would be happy to sign a nuclear agreement with Washington if the US reduced the size of its nuclear arsenal to China’s level.
The post-Cold War strategic security order began to be dismantled in late 2001, when the George W. Bush administration announced that it would scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty – a landmark 1972 agreement designed to limit anti-missile defenses and thus reduce the danger of a global nuclear war. Washington quit the treaty despite proposals by Moscow at the time to establish a joint missile defense system in the Caucasus to eliminate any threats posed to the US or Europe.