Russian Ambassador to U.S. Sees Hope for Nuclear Arms Treaty Extension

December 7, 2020 3:08 PM
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 a.m. Pacific Time on Oct. 2, 2019. US Air Force Photo

The Russian ambassador to the United States said there is still time to extend the Strategic Arms Control Treaty, due to expire in early February, even despite the upcoming presidential transition.

Anatoly Antonov, whose diplomatic career largely has been spent focused on major arms control issues, said the START treaty is a “key issue” for Russia. “We have time; we can get it done very quickly.” Speaking at a Brookings Institution online forum last week, he added, “we are in close contact with Marshall Billingslea,” the Trump administration’s top envoy on arms control.

He said several times during the forum that the Kremlin has been pushing the White House on an extension of its terms but has not received a formal answer.

“The whole world depends on the United States-Russia relationship.”

On START, he added, “we need time to work out new security agreements” that cover a range of issues from missile defense, intermediate-range missiles, hypersonics and potential space weapons. For this reason, Russia has offered to extend the treaty’s term for up to five years “without pre-conditions.”

The United States wants China to be part of any new START negotiations, but Antonov said Beijing is “not happy with such an invitation.” The ambassador said Moscow wants the United Kingdom and France, both nuclear powers and NATO members, to be involved if the talks are broadened.

So far, there has been no interest expressed in London or Paris in joining these negotiations. France continues to stress its strategic independence in its latest military papers.]

If China agreed to participate, that would raise questions on what ceilings would be set on number of warheads, missiles and delivery systems, Antonov added. Would China’s nuclear arsenal grow to the levels of the United States and Russia’s, or would the original START signatories’ arsenals be drawn down to China’s, he asked rhetorically.

The existing treaty is between the United States and Russia.

Antonov termed the 11-year-old START treaty “the gold standard of arms control agreements.”

A new agreement “signals to the world … the United States and our country are serious about arms control.”

Antonov, however, in his opening remarks said that “we have [had] a lack of communications” on strategic stability and arms control. He said the relationship has deteriorated since late 2016, when the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two compounds in December 2016. The action was taken in response to Russian harassment of American diplomats in Moscow and interference with the presidential election.

“Lately, we have been witnessing further degradation” of communication on the spectrum of arms control issues. He specifically mentioned the United States withdrawing from the “Open Skies” agreement and Washington’s lack of response to Moscow’s offer to resurrect the Intermediate Range Nuclear Arms Treaty (INF).

“Our proposals have never taken the form of ultimatums.”

Russia wants “to build a relationship on the basis of equality” with the United States, rather than bow “to the will of one state.”

He said Moscow would “welcome” Washington’s return to the Iran nuclear agreement. “Remember, it was endorsed by the Security Council.”

President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he wants the United States to rejoin the pact, but the path won’t be easy. Iran is already stepping up its production of enriched uranium and barring U.N. inspectors following the assassination of its top nuclear weapons scientist.

As an example of cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the Arctic, the two nations and others have worked out details on handling search-and-rescue missions in the region, improving communications, handling oil spills and detailing boundaries on the continental shelf, important for fisheries management and mineral and energy exploration.

At the same time, military activity has increased in the Arctic. Russia recently concluded a major maritime exercise in the Bering Sea that followed last year’s in the Baltic.

USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) is deploying “to project [U.S.] sovereignty” over its waters off Alaska and “to strengthen the rules based-order in the Arctic,” Coast Guard Capt. Williams Woityra, said. recently. In late October, Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area, said in a statement announcing the mission change from supporting scientists in the Antarctic. “The Arctic is no longer an emerging frontier, but is instead a region of growing national importance,” she said.

Woityra added, “there’s a lot of actors [operating in the Far North]. It’s very different than in the past.”

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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