Putin suspends New START Treaty, attacks US and NATO, leaves door open to China
by Emanuele Scimia

In a self-serving move, the Kremlin wants France and the UK to join the nuclear treaty, not China. The latter has the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world but wants nuclear parity with Russia and the US before joining the treaty. For Russian expert, Putin's move is political, not military; Russia has enough nuclear weapons. The risk for their use in Ukraine is low.

Rome (AsiaNews) – As China’s top envoy Wang Yi ended his visit to Russia today by meeting Vladimir Putin, the Russian Duma (lower house of parliament) approved the suspension of Russia’s participation in the New START Treaty with the US on the reduction of nuclear weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the suspension yesterday in a long speech in which he again justified the invasion of Ukraine with the military threat of NATO.

Under New START, the United States and Russia can hold 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads each (only one warhead is counted per long-range bomber).

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, today said that rebooting the treaty with the US will also depend on France and the United Kingdom, two NATO nuclear powers that can no longer be kept out of talks between Washington and Moscow on nuclear arms control.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who signed the New START Treaty in 2010, which was extended in 2021 by five years, also reiterated Ryabkov's views.

However, Russia’s position appears self-serving. If Paris and London have to be brought in to sign onto the treaty, all the more reason it should include China. Yet Russia's friend “without limits” has long been committed to boosting its nuclear arsenal.

The Federation of the American Scientists estimates that Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, the US 5,428, while France and the United Kingdom have 290 and 225 respectively.

China has 350, but, unlike most of Russia’s and the US’s, they appear not be deployed yet. What is more Beijing has refused to join New START unless Moscow and Washington accept nuclear parity.

According to some observers, Putin's decision to suspend the New START Treaty is a dangerous escalation. Alexander Savelyev, chief research fellow at the Moscow-based Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, disagrees.

An adviser to the START-1 negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991, he told AsiaNews that the Kremlin's move was "unpleasant" but with political, not military effects.

Asked about the possible increase in Russian nuclear forces, Savelyev thinks that Putin might want to, but the reality is that he cannot.

Reinforcing “a strategic nuclear arsenal is a very expensive and a very long program, which can take years, not months. Moreover, Russia still has more than enough nuclear weapons. I can see no sense in doing that.”

On Moscow's possible use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Savelyev says the risk is low at present.

In his view, “It was relatively high during the first stages of a conflict with Ukraine, because it was not quite clear whether a so-called Gerasimov doctrine existed or not.”

The reference is to a doctrine attributed to General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (currently serving as the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine) whereby nuclear weapons would be used at the start of a military offensive.

“I hope,” Savelyev said, “Russian leaders and authorities responsible for such a decision and its implementation are not of a suicidal type.”

(Photo Reuters)