Russia has suddenly reneged on a key arms agreement with the United States. On August 9, the Kremlin announced that it won’t allow officials to inspect its nuclear arsenal. They’re blaming the US for it, but combined with President Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear war, it’s a worrying move.
Since the US and Russia signed the New START Treaty in 2011, inspectors from both countries have been allowed to check up on the other’s strategic nuclear weapons. These inspections were suspended in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, US officials said they wanted to restart them. On Monday, Russia gave its reply – Nyet.
According to the Russian foreign ministry, US travel restrictions — imposed in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — prevent Russian officials from visiting US weapon sites. Now, Moscow says it wants an exemption for its inspection teams, and until it gets that it’s going to ban US inspectors. The ministry’s statement called the situation “unacceptable” and demanded “parity and equality of the parties.”
On the face of it, Russia’s position isn’t totally unreasonable; New START is a reciprocal treaty that gives both sides access to the other’s nuclear weapons. If Russia’s inspectors can’t do their jobs, why should American ones be able to? On the other hand, President Vladimir Putin has made several threats to use nuclear weapons against the US and UK as punishment for our support for Ukraine. This isn’t a good time for Russia to be drawing a veil of secrecy over its nukes.