Putin's suspension of nuclear treaty threatens future of arms control, says analyst


President Vladimir Putin's suspension of a landmark nuclear arms control treaty threatens the primary channels of bilateral dialogue between the United States and Russia and puts the future of arms control and nuclear disarmament in jeopardy.

Alleging that the United States was turning the war into a global conflict, Putin, on Tuesday said Russia was suspending participation in the New START treaty, its last major arms control treaty with Washington.

Analyst Heather Williams, Director of The Project on Nuclear Issues and A Senior Fellow in The International Security Program at The Center for Strategic and International Studies said "With the end of New START, we're not just losing an arms control agreement, we're losing a really important communication channel and we're losing that communication channel at the exact moment when we need it most when nuclear risks are rising when Putin is making all these nuclear threats,".

Signed by then-US president Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, the treaty caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the countries can deploy.

Due to expire in 2026, it allows each country to physically check the other's nuclear arsenal, although tensions over Ukraine had already brought inspections to a halt.

Putin emphasized in Tuesday's speech that Russia was only suspending, not terminating, its participation in the treaty.

Williams says Putin's suspension of the treaty could make it much harder to inspect if Putin is expanding Russia's arsenal.

"We're losing that transparency into the Russian arsenal, losing that predictability," said Williams "Putin is a nuclear bully. This is just the latest move by a nuclear bully."

With less than three years before it expires the future of the New START treaty as well as its successor remains unknown.

"It really is going to depend on what happens in Ukraine. How does the war in Ukraine evolve? God forbid that nuclear weapons are used there. That will make arms control and crisis communication channels all the more important," Williams said.

Russia and the United States together hold 90% of the world's nuclear warheads.

Europe, the United States and Ukraine have repeatedly accused Putin of dangerous nuclear sabre-rattling throughout the war in Ukraine, but before Tuesday's speech, he had appeared to dial down his nuclear rhetoric in recent months.