U.S. officials say Russia has postponed crucial nuclear weapons talks due to start on Tuesday, marking a setback for the powers’ latest arms treaty and providing further evidence of the frayed diplomatic ties since the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow.
On Monday, John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said: “We haven’t received a solid response from the Russians as to why they’ve postponed this. We would like him to return to the program as soon as possible. »
A Russian Foreign Ministry official told the Tass news agency that the talks would be postponed, but provided no further details. US officials said they were working to determine why Moscow postponed the talks.
The meeting would have been the first of its kind since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since its implementation in 2011, the New Start treaty has limited the strategic nuclear weapons arsenals of Moscow and Washington and allowed the parties to conduct on-site inspections to verify that these limits are respected. It is due to expire in 2026.
Over the summer, Russian officials said they would not allow inspections to resume, citing US sanctions related to Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow said would make it difficult for inspections to travel. .
However, US officials had hoped this week’s meeting would allow them to discuss resuming inspections.
A State Department official said Russia made the decision to walk away from the talks “unilaterally,” and added that Washington hopes to return to technical talks on treaty implementation soon.
“The United States is prepared to postpone as soon as possible because resuming inspections is a priority to maintain the treaty as an instrument of stability,” the official said.
US and European officials have made strenuous efforts to avoid nuclear escalation as Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine rumbles. Washington is particularly concerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to use a tactical or battlefield nuclear weapon – which are not included in the treaty – in Ukraine as he continues to face setbacks. military.
CIA Director Bill Burns met his Russian counterpart in Turkey earlier this month to warn him of the consequences of using nuclear weapons, while senior US officials have intensified talks with their counterparts in recent times. months to do the same.