Russia Says U.S. 'Unwillingness' Is Threatening Major Nuclear Weapons Deal

Russia has again pointed the finger at the U.S. for delaying the extension of the New START nuclear weapons treaty, which expires next year.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that any questions about why the deal has not been extended should be directed to Washington rather than Moscow. Peskov said the Kremlin remains keen to make a deal, but has met with delay from the White House.

"Actions on destruction of this document—on its non-extension—are taken not by Moscow," Peskov told reporters, according to the Tass state news agency. "Rather, this is our U.S. colleagues' unwillingness, and we have repeatedly expressed our regret in that regard."

The 10-year New START treaty came into force in 2011. It extended the existing START agreement, which was signed in the early 1990s.

New START capped the number of deployed Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear warheads and bombs at 1,550, and the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers used for nuclear missions at 700. The total allowed number of deployed and non-deployed assets is currently 800.

New START is the last of what former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev called the "three principal pillars of global strategic stability," following the collapse of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty last year.

Russia has repeatedly said that it wants to extend New START, but the U.S. has still not revealed its plans. President Donald Trump has hinted that they wish to include China in any new deal, but experts—among them one of the original negotiators of START—have warned this is not feasible in such a short time frame. Chinese officials have dismissed any suggestion of involvement in a new treaty.

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that the U.S. and Russia held a meeting of the Strategic Security Dialogue in January and proposed one to China, which has not yet been accepted. The spokesperson added that the Trump administration stands "ready to engage with both Russia and China on arms control negotiations that meet our criteria."

Peskov acknowledged that the New START deal has fallen down the pecking order with the appearance of the coronavirus pandemic. Both the U.S. and Russia—like many other nations—are struggling to contain the virus. "The coronavirus has halted many vital processes," Peskov said, "This is the reality we have to face."

Russian Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia Dmitry Medvedev—who was serving as president when New START was signed—complained Wednesday that in the nine years since the deal was agreed, the U.S. has flipped from "cooperation to political pressure and unleashed an unprecedented war of sanctions against us, trying to oust Russia from the global agenda."

In an op-ed for Tass, Medvedev suggested that removing sanctions on Moscow would be a good first step to re-open New START talks. "If the New START deal ceases to exist, its demise will have extremely serious consequences for international security," the former president and prime minister said.

Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin have urged the White House to lift sanctions—imposed because of Russia's annexation of Crimea, support of separatists in eastern Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—to help the global response to coronavirus.

This article has been updated to include State Department comment.

ICBM, Russia, new start, arms control, nuclear
People are pictured walking past a Russian Topol ICBM during the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2017 at the Kubinka Patriot Park outside Moscow, Russia, on August 22, 2017 ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images/Getty