Russia hoping for extension to arms pact with US before it expires

The New Start pact is set to expire on February 5.
A Russian “Bear” bomber (SAC Samantha Holden/RAF/PA)

A Russian “Bear” bomber (SAC Samantha Holden/RAF/PA)

By Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press

Russia is ready for a quick deal with the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden to extend the last remaining arms control pact, which expires in just over two weeks, Moscow’s top diplomat said.

Months of talks between Russia and President Donald Trump’s administration on the possible extension of the New Start treaty have failed to narrow their differences.

The pact is set to expire on February 5.

Mr Biden has spoken in favour of the preservation of the New Start treaty, which was negotiated during his tenure as US vice president, and Russia has said it is open for its quick and unconditional extension.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference that Moscow is ready to move quickly to keep the pact alive.

Sergei Lavrov (AP)

Sergei Lavrov (AP)

“The most important priority is the absolutely abnormal situation in the sphere of arms control,” Mr Lavrov said.

“We have heard about the Biden administration’s intention to resume a dialogue on this issue and try to agree on the New Start treaty’s extension before it expires on February 5.

“We are waiting for specific proposals, our stance is well-known.”

New Start envisages the possibility of its extension for another five years, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow is ready to do so without any conditions.

The Kremlin also has voiced readiness to prolong the pact for a shorter term, as Trump’s administration had pondered.

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The talks on the treaty’s extension have been clouded by tensions between Russia and the United States, which have been fuelled by the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and other irritants.

Sunday’s arrest of leading Putin critic Alexei Navalny in Moscow after his return from Germany where he was recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin will further cloud Russia-US ties.

Mr Biden’s pick for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called on Russian authorities to free Mr Navalny.

“Mr Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable”, Mr Sullivan said in a tweet.

A US B52 bomber (David Jones/PA)

A US B52 bomber (David Jones/PA)

New Start was signed in 2010 by then US president Barack Obama and then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

It limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

Arms control advocates have strongly called for its preservation, warning that its expiration would remove any checks on US and Russian nuclear forces, striking a blow to global stability.

In 2019, the US and Russia both withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and banned land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 310 to 3,410 miles.

And last week, Russia declared that it would follow the US to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty allowing surveillance flights over military facilities to help build trust and transparency between Russia and the West.

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