Trump Administration Accusations That Russia Violated Nuclear Treaty Are a 'Cover Up,' Moscow Claims

In an era in which keystone foreign policy doctrines and alliances have been put to the test, the future of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CNTB) appears precarious.

Officials in Washington have accused Russia of secretly carrying out low-yield nuclear tests in violation of the CNTB, which was opened for signature in 1996 and has since been ratified by 159 countries. It is the first time that the United States has accused Russia of breaking the ban since Moscow ratified it in the year 2000.

"The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the 'zero-yield' standard," Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in a speech at the conservative Washington D.C. think tank the Hudson Institute on May 29.

Russia, meanwhile, has denied that it is breaking the ban, arguing that Washington's accusations are "unacceptable" in a statement released nearly one month after U.S. officials first levied the charge.

"The United States continues making unfounded accusations over Russia's violation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russia nuclear weapons test Arctic
This file photo shows a Russian Yars RS-24 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile system in Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia on May 9, 2019. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

"We once again stress that all such accusations are absolutely unfounded. They can be only considered as a cover up for Washington's steps on leaving the CTBT and resuming full-fledged nuclear tests," the statement continued, adding that the treaty had become, "another object of the destructive U.S. policy on undermining the international architecture of agreements in the sphere of non-proliferation and arms control."

The word "probably" in Ashley's statement drew some skepticism from nuclear experts who cast doubt on the U.S. claims. The Arms Control Association, a Washington-based research group, called on the Trump administration to release evidence to back up its assertion that Moscow was breaking the treaty.

"If the U.S. has credible evidence that Russia is violating its CTBT commitments, it should confidence-building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address concerns about compliance," the organization said in a statement.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), a group dedicated to monitoring nuclear tests, said that its international monitoring system (IMS) had not detected anything out of the ordinary.

"The CTBTO has full confidence in the ability of the IMS to detect nuclear test explosions according to the provisions of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty," the organization said in a statement. "The CTBT verification regime is already working and effective, with over 300 monitoring stations deployed around the world and sending data."

The statements were made at a time when arms treaties between the U.S. and Russia, both major nuclear powers, are falling apart.

The administration of President Donald Trump already pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), citing Russia's violations of the treaty. In this case, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members agree that Moscow is violating the INF Treaty. Another key arms treaty, New START, will need to be renewed in 2021.