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Russia offers renewal of New START treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to immediately renew the New START nuclear weapons treaty between his country and the U.S. It expires in 2021.

GENEVA (AN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday offered to immediately renew the New START nuclear weapons treaty between his country and the United States, without any preconditions or more discussions and well ahead of its expiration in February 2021.

The decade-long U.S.-Russia nuclear pact known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, took effect in February 2011. It replaced the START treaty, which was in effect from 2004 to 2009. With an extensive verification program, both sides met the 2018 deadline to reduce their strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads on 700 deployed missiles or bombers.

New START has been a subject of intense speculation since August, when the United States and Russia let another major nuclear accord, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, expire while Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump traded blame.

Trump had announced months earlier that he would allow the INF Treaty, a key plank of Cold War-era nuclear arms control, to lapse without attempting to convene expert-level negotiations to resolve the compliance issues Trump cited in his decision.

The collapse of the INF Treaty — and worries about New START expiring — sparked fears of a new global arms race amid rising geopolitical tensions. Experts have warned that the world will become a more dangerous place and the job of advocating for nuclear arms control will be far more difficult.

The INF Treaty that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed three decades ago led to the destruction of almost 2,700 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles and their launchers. It banned all U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, bringing huge relief to Europe where cities could be hit within minutes.

John Rood, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday the Trump administration wants China included in any negotiations with Russia to replace New START.

"Chinese development of nuclear capabilities is extensive," he said in his testimony. "China's activities, such as militarization of the South China Sea, development of offensive cyber and space capabilities, and legal and illicit efforts to acquire sensitive or advanced dual-use technologies to support its military objectives, are inconsistent with the rules-based international order, which has benefited all nations, including China."

China's involvement

Russia has said not enough time is left to negotiate an extension of New START for another five years. But at a Thursday meeting of Russia's defense ministry and industry leaders, Putin told officials he does not want to escalate tensions "to counter potential threats" from the United States.

"To reiterate, Russia is not interested in launching an arms race or deploying missiles in environments where no missiles are currently deployed," Putin said in a Kremlin transcript.

"As you may be aware, we announced a unilateral moratorium on deploying such missiles and invited our colleagues in Europe and the United States to join in," he said. "So far, only the President of the French Republic, Mr. [Emmanuel] Macron, has responded. There is no response from our other partners. This forces us to take measures to counter these threats."

Putin said all of Russia's proposals to renew New START "are on the table," but so far the Trump administration has not responded.

"In this regard, I would like to reiterate our position: Russia is willing to immediately, as soon as possible, before the year is out, renew this treaty without any preconditions," he said. "I am stating this officially so that there are no double or triple interpretations of our position later on."

Trump, however, said talks to extend New START cannot occur until China's nuclear warheads are included. “We’ll see what happens,” he said in August. “I will say, Russia would like to do something on a nuclear treaty, and that’s okay with me. They’d like to do something, and so would I.”

Nuclear powers China, Britain and France — which, along with Russia and the United States, are the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the 15-nation United Nations Security Council, the world body's most powerful arm — so far "have not shown any willingness to participate in the U.S.- Russian arms control process," the U.S. Congressional Research Service reported last month.

The report said Chinese missiles that would count under the New START treaty "likely carry around 130 warheads. This is within a total estimated arsenal of around 280 nuclear warheads."