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U.S.-Russia Arms Control Process Blows Up

Oct. 14, 2020 (EIRNS)—Ever since he met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Helsinki on Oct. 5, U.S. Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea has been running around claiming that the U.S. and Russia have reached an agreement in principle on a conditional extension of New START to include a freeze on stockpiles of all warheads, including nonstrategic warheads. He did this again yesterday at the Heritage Foundation. The sides have reached an agreement in principle “at the highest levels of our two governments,” Billingslea said, reported Defense One news website.

It turns out that it is not true. The Russians have never confirmed Billingslea’s optimism anyway, but Ryabkov issued a particularly sharp statement in response late yesterday. He said Washington’s position on freezing nuclear arsenals was “unacceptable.” He said Moscow would refuse any agreement on New START that was timed to coincide with the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election. “If the Americans need to report to their superiors something about which they allegedly agreed with the Russian Federation before their elections, then they will not get it,” Ryabkov said.

Already on Oct. 11, the Russian embassy in Vienna had poured cold water on a Wall Street Journal report to the same effect as Billingslea’s comments of yesterday. “#Russia and #U.S. didn’t agree on nuclear arsenals freeze. It’s unclear what the U.S. media information is based upon. Framework agreement on #ArmsControl can be developed at any time should the U.S. accept our proposals,” it said. Today, in comments to Russian media, reported by TASS, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov very forcefully described Billingslea’s proposal as “unscrupulous.... We have always considered and continue to consider that an agreement on strategic stability must be based on the consideration of interests of all negotiating sides, on an analysis of threats that the other side presents to your country and on a search for a compromise that will take interests of—and, therefore, real threats to—all sides into account.”

Now, he explained, Washington is trying to bring the category of non-strategic nuclear weapons, the so-called tactical nuclear weapons, on the table. But, “before we include this category in arms control discussions, you are to take all these tactical missiles with tactical warheads to your own territory. It has these tactical nuclear weapons deployed in five NATO countries. Besides, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it involves NATO countries in drills on use and handling of nuclear weapons.”

Defense One reports that the U.S. has been trying to persuade Russia to include its tactical warhead stockpile in a new arms control agreement for some time (the U.S. estimates that Russia has 1,500-2,500 such warheads). Billingslea’s statement to the Heritage Foundation was:

“What we’ve indicated to the Russians is that we are in fact willing to extend the New START Treaty for some period of time provided that they agree to a limitation, a freeze, in their nuclear arsenal. We’re willing to do the same. I don’t see how it’s in anyone’s interests to allow Russia to build up its inventory of these tactical nuclear weapons systems with which they like to threaten NATO. We cannot agree to a construct that leaves unaddressed 55% or more of the Russian arsenal.”

But this is what the Russians have not agreed to, and like the earlier effort to include China in a three-way negotiation, it appears guaranteed to sabotage the prospects for an agreement, especially with time running out before the New START treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

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