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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Shannon Bugos

Russia Should Agree to Resume Inspections, Discuss Follow-On To New START

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For Immediate Release: Feb. 3, 2023

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, 202-463-8270 ext. 114

(Washington DC) —Experts from the Arms Control Association called upon Russia to comply with its obligations to allow for on-site inspections to verify compliance with the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and to engage in further nuclear disarmament diplomacy with the United States.

“It is in Russia’s self-interest to resume on-site inspections and to engage in talks with the United States to hammer out new nuclear arms control framework agreement to supersede New START before it expires in three years, on Feb. 5, 2026,” says Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“Russia’s failure to allow for the resumption of New START inspections is irresponsible and unnecessary, especially at this time of heightened tensions and uncertainties,” says Kimball. “Maintaining common sense limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals remains in the common security interests of Washington and Moscow, as well as the world.”

The U.S. State Department released its annual compliance assessment report on New START Jan. 31.

“Russia’s decisions to prohibit on-site inspections and to unilaterally cancel a meeting of the treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission meeting stand in clear violation of New START,” said Cara Abercrombie, deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for defense policy and arms control for the U.S. National Security Council, during a Feb. 1 briefing hosted by the Arms Control Association.

In August 2022, Moscow announced a prohibition of on-site inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities subject to the treaty citing obstacles to its ability to conduct those inspections. Russia and the United States planned to convene the Commission in Cairo, Egypt, in November 2022 to resolve the dispute issue, but Moscow called off the meeting and has since refused to reschedule as required by the treaty. The United States has made it clear that there are no obstacles that would impede Russia from conducting reciprocal inspections of U.S. strategic nuclear facilities.

New START will expire in exactly 1,098 days. Two years ago today, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to extend the treaty by the full five years, in order to allow for more time to put into place a replacement arrangement.

“The United States and Russia have continued to emphasize their support of New START and have cited its great value in providing predictability, transparency, and stability,” says Shannon Bugos, a senior policy analyst at the Arms Control Association. “Washington and Moscow must maintain strong adherence to the agreement, so as to mitigate nuclear escalation and misunderstandings and to pave the way for further U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions.”

Additional Resources

Congress Boosts Defense Budget Beyond Biden’s Request


January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos

For the second consecutive year, Congress deemed President Joe Biden’s proposed national defense budget insufficient to counter growing inflation and rising security threats, prompting lawmakers to increase the fiscal year 2023 defense authorization by $45 billion over Biden’s $813 billion request.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was among the leading forces behind the 2023 National Defense Authorization Law.  (Photo by Oliver Contreras/AFP via Getty Images)“There were compromises made to get this bill across the finish line,” acknowledged House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) on Dec. 8. But “now more than ever, at a time when global democracy is under attack and the rules-based international order is being threatened, we need a strong national security and defense strategy, and this bill helps us deliver on that front.”

The House passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 350–80 on Dec. 8, followed by an 83–11 vote in the Senate on Dec. 15. Biden signed the bipartisan legislation into law on Dec. 23. The NDAA totals $848 billion. An additional $10 billion of national discretionary defense spending falls outside of the armed services committees’ authority. The $858 billion defense topline is an increase of $80 billion, or 10 percent, over the 2022 national defense budget.

The New York Times, citing an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported on Dec. 18 that the new total means the Pentagon budget has grown 4.3 percent annually over the last two years, after inflation, compared to 1 percent in real dollars from 2015 to 2021. Military spending is on track to reach its highest level in inflation-adjusted terms since 2008–2011, during the peaks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspaper said.

The chairpersons and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees settled on compromise NDAA text on Dec. 6. Although the House passed its version of the legislation in July, the full Senate did not and brought its armed services committee’s version to the negotiations. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the armed services committee, described the Biden administration’s defense budget request, released in March, as “woefully inadequate.” (See ACT, June 2022.) The compromise bill corrects course by “prioritiz[ing] nuclear modernization amid Chinese nuclear breakout,” and stays “tough on Russia,” Inhofe stated Dec. 6.

Although the NDAA authorizes funding, appropriations bills allow for actual spending. The fiscal year 2023 defense and energy and water appropriations bills, which, on the whole, reflect the same budget levels in the defense authorization bill, passed through the Senate on Dec. 22 and the House on Dec. 23. Biden signed the omnibus appropriations legislation on Dec. 29.

For the most part, the 2023 NDAA either fully authorizes or boosts the requested budgets for U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs, including delivery systems and warheads. In addition to mandating some reporting requirements to bolster congressional oversight on nuclear matters, the law adds funding for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and an associated low-yield warhead and allows only a partial retirement of the megaton B83 gravity bomb fleet. It fails to reverse language that undermines support for the international organization that monitors the world for signs of nuclear testing.

Nuclear Delivery Systems

The Biden administration requested no funding for the new nuclear-armed SLCM as it views the capability as unnecessary and potentially detrimental to other priorities.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the unveiling ceremony of the B-21 Raider at Northrop Grumman’s Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, in December. The high-tech stealth bomber can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to fly without a crew on board.  (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images) Further developing this SLCM “would divert resources and focus from higher modernization priorities for the U.S. nuclear enterprise and infrastructure, which is already stretched to capacity after decades of deferred investments,” the White House noted in an administration policy statement in October.

Although Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro concur with this assessment, members of Congress from both parties and other defense officials do not.

“No one can tell in an uncertain world what we will need, but it’s important to keep this option available,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who led the House effort to insert funding for the capability, in July.

Gen. Mark Milley and Adm. Christopher Grady, chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, respectively, wrote in June that they see value in the nuclear-armed SLCM due to “its distinct contribution.”

The NDAA authorizes $25 million for the Pentagon to develop the missile and $20 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to develop the associated warhead, the W80-4 Alt SLCM.The law also requires reports on the concept of operations, operational implications, and costs of the capability, as well as a detailed, unclassified summary of the analysis of alternatives for the missile before the Pentagon can move into the development and demonstration phases.

Congress also authorized $6.2 billion, slightly more than the administration’s request, for construction and continued research and development on a future fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.

The Air Force, meanwhile, received an authorization of $4.9 billion for the B-21 Raider dual-capable strategic bomber, a decrease of $110 million from the request. On Dec. 2, the service unveiled the new highly secretive bomber, which will take its first flight in 2023 and is slated to be deployed later this decade. Six bombers are under construction, and the Pentagon plans to acquire at least 100 bombers total.

Lawmakers authorized $3.6 billion, slightly over the request, for replacement of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and supporting infrastructure with the new Sentinel system. They banned any decrease in the number of deployed ICBMs, currently 400. Congress also authorized the requested $981 million for the new nuclear-capable, long-range standoff (LRSO) weapons system to replace the
air-launched cruise missile.

Nuclear Warheads

For the NNSA, Congress authorized the Biden administration’s requests of $672 million for the B61-12 gravity bomb, $680 million for the W87-1 ICBM warhead, and $1.1 billion for the W80-4 LRSO weapons system warhead upgrade.

Congress also approved the agency’s $241 million request for the controversial new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the W93, and authorized the Pentagon to receive $97.1 million to develop the warhead’s aeroshell.

According to the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, the Biden administration, reversing Trump administration policy, aims to follow through on retiring the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb, but Congress has now slowed that process. The NDAA only allows for the deactivation or retirement of up to 25 percent of the B83-1 fleet until the Pentagon submits a report to Congress. (See ACT, December 2022.)

Meanwhile, the NNSA program for producing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons received $500 million more than the administration’s $758 million request for the Savannah River Site location, while the Los Alamos site was authorized for the requested $1.6 billion.

According to an internal NNSA document, pit production is running more than a year behind schedule, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby acknowledged last spring that the agency will not reach its goal of producing 80 pits a year by 2030.

Hypersonic Weapons

Congress also broadly threw its full support behind the Pentagon’s hypersonic weapons programs.

The Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), received $47 million less than the request and the authorization for a total of $115 million. The system hit a major milestone Dec. 9 with the successful completion of its first all-up-round test, meaning a test of the full prototype operational missile, off the southern California coast.

“Following the ARRW’s separation from the [B-52H Stratofortress bomber], it reached hypersonic speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, completed its flight path and detonated in the terminal area,” an Air Force statement said. The service aims to conduct three more all-up-round tests before deciding whether to move into production.

Congress added $145 million to the requested $317 million for the Air Force’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile program.

As for the Navy, the service received a $20 million increase for the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, bringing the total to $1.2 billion, and a $67 million increase for the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Weapon, for a total $160 million.

The Navy’s CPS program shares the common hypersonic glide-body vehicle with the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), which could enter the field in 2023. Congress authorized $1.1 billion for the Army’s hypersonics program, an increase of $50 million above the request, to account for the National Hypersonic Initiative, which will improve coordination and address any development gaps among the hypersonic weapons programs.

In late October, the Pentagon conducted two test launches of rockets, each carrying about a dozen different experiments, meant to inform continued development of the CPS and LRHW systems.

The NDAA also requires a report on the ARRW, CPS, and LRHW programs to assess their respective costs, schedules, and potential alternatives.

Various hypersonics programs overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency received substantial increases in the authorized budget. Glide Breaker jumped from $18 million to $38 million, Tactical Boost Glide from $30 million to $65 million, and Operation Fires, which was in line to be zeroed out, received $42 million. The MoHAWC hypersonic air-launched cruise missile program was authorized for its requested $60 million.

Missile Defense

The NDAA authorized the Pentagon’s efforts for hypersonic missile defense at $518 million, a 1.3 percent increase above the request.

The Space Force landed $830 million for its effort to build a satellite system to track missiles, including hypersonic weapons, which marked a 30 percent increase from the request. This effort includes plans by the Space Development Agency, now part of the Space Force, for the development of a tracking layer.

Congress also authorized the requested $2.8 billion for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense weapons system based in Alaska and California, which includes $1.8 billion for the Next Generation Interceptors.

Lawmakers boosted the budget requests for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system by $165 million to $587 million to buy 15 additional interceptors and for the Aegis ballistic missile defense system by $245 million to $2 billion.

Risk Reduction

The NDAA contains a slight $13 million increase above the $354 million request for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program to account for inflation. In each of the previous two fiscal years, Congress significantly boosted the program’s budget by more than $100 million. This program is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as COVID-19.

The NDAA omitted language originally in the House version that would have repealed the restriction, imposed by the 2018 NDAA, on funding the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which oversees the systems in place to detect signs of nuclear testing across the world.

 

For the second year, Congress deemed the president’s proposed national defense budget insufficient to counter growing inflation and rising security threats.

Pentagon: Chinese Nuclear Arsenal Exceeds 400 Warheads


January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos and Michael Klare

China’s nuclear arsenal likely exceeds 400 operational nuclear warheads, a level that the Pentagon estimated two years ago might not be reached until the end of the decade.

DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles are a key weapon in China’s expanding nuclear arsenal.    (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as “a rapid buildup that is kind of too substantial to keep under wraps.” Beijing has undertaken plans “that exceed really their previous attempts, both in terms of the scale, the numbers, and also the complexity and technological sophistication of the capabilities,” the official said at a press briefing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian criticized the Pentagon’s report on Nov. 30. “We have exercised utmost restraint in developing nuclear capabilities,” he said. “We have kept those capabilities at the minimum level required by national security.”

The nuclear warhead estimate comes from the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power, which was published Nov. 29 and covers developments through 2021. In its National Defense Strategy released this year, the Biden administration named China as “the most comprehensive and serious challenge” for the United States. (See ACT, December 2022.)

The report projects that China aims to complete its nuclear modernization plans by 2035.

“If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by its 2035 timeline,” the report states. This statement extrapolates the Pentagon’s estimate from the previous year, which said that Beijing may be able to amass 700 warheads by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030. (See ACT, December 2021.)

China is continuing to build three silo fields for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which will feature at least 300 new silos in total for two Dongfeng (DF) missile variants. Open-source intelligence analysts discovered these fields in 2021. (See ACT, September 2021.)

“At least some of the new silos might be operational,” according to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists on Nov. 29. He made the assessment based on the Pentagon’s estimate that China has tripled its number of ICBMs to 300 silo-based or road-mobile missiles from a previous estimate of 100.

Although the report finds that China’s nuclear arsenal continues to closely align with the concept of a limited deterrent, senior U.S. defense officials have suggested that Beijing may be shifting away from that posture.

The Defense Department disclosed in the report that the DF-41, a fixed or mobile ICBM with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, likely will carry no more than three warheads per missile.

Beijing also continues growing its inventory of about 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads to the western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea. The report says China is probably seeking a low-yield nuclear weapon and, if so, is likely using the DF-26 for that purpose.

In 2021, China launched approximately 135 ballistic missiles for testing and training, more than the rest of the world combined outside of conflict zones, according to the report.

The Pentagon confirmed China’s test in July 2021 of a hypersonic glide vehicle paired with an ICBM in a demonstration of a fractional orbital system. (See ACT, November 2021.) The vehicle flew around the world in low-orbit space for a total of 40,000 kilometers in roughly 100-plus minutes and very nearly struck its target inside China.

The development of such a system, the report acknowledges, is probably “due to long-term concerns” about U.S. missile defense capabilities and to a drive “to attain qualitative parity with future worldwide missile capabilities.”

As for sea-based nuclear forces, the Pentagon revealed for the first time that China “likely began near-continuous at-sea deterrence patrols” with its six operational Jin-class nuclear-powered submarines, each of which can carry up to 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Beijing operationally fielded the H-6N nuclear-capable bomber in 2020 as part of its “nascent” nuclear triad, according to the report. The Chinese military likely is developing tactics and procedures for the bomber to support its nuclear mission, the report states.

To support its nuclear force expansion, China continues to pursue the construction of fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities, the Pentagon said, reaffirming a previous assessment.

“Despite China’s public support for a fissile material cutoff treaty,” the report says, “we judge that Beijing intends to use this infrastructure to produce nuclear warhead materials for its military in the near term.”

The report reiterates previous assessments that China, which keeps a majority of its launchers and missiles separated from nuclear warheads, may ramp up this peacetime status by moving toward a launch-on-warning posture. At this stage, this posture largely has been associated with military exercises.

China also maintains its declaratory no-first-use nuclear policy, but the Pentagon believes it may consider using nuclear weapons if a conventional attack imperils the country’s existence.

In parallel with China’s efforts to enhance its strategic nuclear capabilities, the Pentagon sees a concerted Chinese drive to advance its emerging and disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, and cyberweapons. The report indicates that Chinese leaders are convinced that mastery of these technologies will be essential to success in future wars with a “strong power” such as the United States.

“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] is pursuing next-generation combat capabilities based on its vision of future conflict, which it calls ‘intelligentized warfare,’ defined by the expanded use of AI and other advanced technologies at every level of warfare,” the report states.

According to the Pentagon, China is exploring using AI in target detection and identification systems, missile guidance, computer-assisted decision-making, and autonomous weapons platforms of various sorts, including unmanned air, sea, and ground vehicles.

China also is reported to have developed a significant capacity for offensive cyberoperations and intends to employ these capabilities at the onset of battle to disable an adversary’s command, control, and communications systems, a scenario with significant implications for strategic stability.

The report includes a special section on Chinese views of strategic stability, which are described as increasingly revolving around the concept of “ensuring mutual vulnerability” with its nuclear-armed adversaries. “Beijing views significant risks to strategic stability from potential U.S. technological breakthroughs or new commitments to produce and deploy cutting-edge weapons systems at greater scale or near China’s periphery,” the report says.

China’s main strategic stability concerns include rapid, credible advances in U.S. missile defenses, U.S. and allied hypersonic weapons capable of threatening China’s land-based arsenal, space surveillance assets, conventional prompt-strike weapons, and cyberoperations capable of undermining nuclear command and control, the report adds.

A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as rapid and substantial. 

Putin Denies Wielding Nuclear Threats


January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos

After raising the nuclear temperature with his comments in recent months, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied issuing any threats of possible nuclear weapons use, stating that “we have not lost our minds.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin conducts a video conference in Moscow on Dec. 7, the day he denied issuing threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)Russian nuclear forces are “in a more advanced and up-to-date condition than the weapons in the possession of any other nuclear power,” Putin said on Dec. 7. “Yet, we are not going to wield these weapons like a razor running around the globe.”

But even as the Russian president denied having ever spoken about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, he emphasized that Russia will protect itself and its allies “with all means at our disposal, if needed.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denounced Putin’s statements on Dec. 9, saying that “the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear saber rattling” during Russia’s “cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine.”

Bloomberg reported the same day that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined to hold an annual meeting with Putin due to the threats of nuclear use. But the two leaders held a telephone call on Dec. 16, during which Modi emphasized dialogue and diplomacy as the only way forward in Ukraine, according to the prime minister’s office.

The Kremlin readout of the call reported that “the two leaders agreed to maintain personal contacts.”

After Russia’s cancellation of a Russian-U.S. meeting to discuss the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Austin reiterated in December that the United States “stand[s] ready to pursue new arms control arrangements with willing partners operating in good faith.” (See ACT, December 2022.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Dec. 1 that “it is impossible to discuss strategic stability today while ignoring everything that is happening in Ukraine.” Washington and Moscow typically include arms control under the umbrella of strategic stability matters.

By contrast, Sergei Ryabkov, Lavrov’s deputy, said two weeks earlier that so long as the United States demonstrates an “interest and readiness,” Russia would be willing to discuss matters of strategic stability only.

 

After raising the nuclear temperature with his recent comments, the Russian president denied issuing any threats of possible nuclear weapons use.

Russian Officials Talk Nuclear War, U.S. Intelligence Says


December 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Senior Russian officials have discussed the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, according to a new U.S. intelligence analysis. But U.S. officials stand divided about the meaning of the analysis, CNN and The New York Times reported on Nov. 2.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks to reporters in November on a visit to Kyiv. In recent months, he has held discussions with Yuri Ushakov, a top foreign policy adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an effort to keep communications open between Moscow and Washington. (Photo by Evgen Kotenko / Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)The new assessment by the U.S. National Intelligence Council has led to differing interpretations. Some Biden administration officials believe the Russian discussions might signal genuine consideration of nuclear use on the Ukrainian battlefield, where Russia has sustained huge losses, while others believe the discussions do not imply intent at this stage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not take part in discussions, according to senior U.S. officials who described the intelligence assessment to CNN and The Times.

The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry immediately dismissed the reports, stating that “Russia is strictly and consistently guided by the tenet that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The Russian Defense Ministry responded by outlining the scenarios in which Moscow might “hypothetically” consider the use of nuclear weapons, as described in a June 2020 policy document. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

U.S. National Security Council official John Kirby refused to comment “on the particulars of this reporting,” but said the United States has maintained “an appropriate level of concern about the potential use of weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, to include nuclear weapons.”

The Pentagon, along with U.S. and allied intelligence agencies, has monitored Russian nuclear forces continually and repeatedly assessed that there are neither signs of imminent nuclear use nor reasons for the United States to change the posture of its nuclear forces.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, meanwhile, has held behind-the-scenes discussions in recent months with Yuri Ushakov, a top foreign policy adviser to Putin, and Nikolai Patrushev, the Russian Security Council secretary, in an effort to maintain communications, clarify potential misunderstandings, and decrease the risk of escalation, including to the nuclear level, in Ukraine.

Similarly, CIA Director William Burns met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Naryshkin, on Nov. 14 in Ankara, Turkey, to dissuade Russia from using nuclear weapons.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, on Oct. 21, the first time since May, and “emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine,” according to a Pentagon statement.

On direct orders from Putin, Shoigu called his French, Turkish, UK, and U.S. counterparts two days later to allege that Ukraine was readying a “dirty bomb,” a conventional explosive designed to spread radioactive material.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke on Oct. 24 with Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States jointly rejected Russia’s “transparently false” claim.

Ukraine invited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the country to conduct inspections, which the agency carried out at three locations beginning on Oct. 31.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi officially dismissed Russia’s claim on Nov. 3, announcing that “our technical and scientific evaluation of the results we have so far did not show any sign of undeclared nuclear activities and materials at these three locations.”

Moscow’s allegation came as an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive prompted Russian forces to withdraw from Kherson, the first major Ukrainian city captured by Russia in its invasion. NATO and Russia had just ended simultaneous nuclear exercises in October. (See ACT, November 2022.)

Near the end of the exercises, Politico reported that the Pentagon has sped up the arrival of the upgraded B61-12 gravity bomb to NATO bases in Europe. The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the move and argued that the United States is “reducing the nuclear threshold.”

The U.S. Defense Department denied the Politico report, saying the B61’s modernization effort “is in no way linked to current events in Ukraine and was not sped up in any way.” Richard Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear policy, reiterated on Oct. 28 that the B61-12 “is on the same schedule it has always been on.”

Three weeks later, concerns spiked that the war officially had entered NATO territory, with reports that some of Russia’s estimated 85 conventional missiles aimed at Ukraine’s power grid crossed over into Przewodów, Poland, on Nov. 15, killing two people.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Nov. 16 that it was “unlikely in the lines of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia.” Later that day, Polish President Andrzej Duda shared the findings from an initial assessment, which found that “Ukraine’s defense was launching their missiles in various directions, and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory.”

Although the U.S. National Security Council, the Pentagon, and NATO all backed Poland’s assessment, Ukraine dismissed it. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied that “Russian firepower” had struck inside of Poland.

Senior Russian officials discussed possibly using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but U.S. officials are divided about what this means, according to CNN and The New York Times.

Russia Delays Meeting on New START


December 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Russia unilaterally called off a meeting with the United States regarding implementation concerns with the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a day before the two sides planned to convene in Cairo.

Moscow informed Washington on Nov. 28 of its decision to “unilaterally postpone” the meeting of the New START Bilateral Consultative Commission, which handles treaty implementation and verification concerns.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attributed the decision to technical concerns, such as Russian claims of a U.S. failure to implement the treaty fully, and political reasons, including the war in Ukraine. Arms control is not “immune” to world events, he said on Nov. 29. “This is not a cancellation, but a postponement.”

The U.S. State Department reiterated its commitment to rescheduling the meeting as soon as possible.

One discussion topic would have been the nearly three-year pause in the treaty’s on-site inspections of nuclear weapon-related facilities, a hallmark of the New START verification regime. The two countries paused the inspections in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. On August 8, Russia further delayed resuming inspections by blocking treaty visits to its facilities.

New START is the last treaty limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals and provides unparalleled insight into Russian nuclear forces.

Russia called off the meeting with the United States a day before it was scheduled in Cairo.

 

G-20 Majority Condemns Russian Nuclear Threats


December 2022
By Shannon Bugos

A majority of the Group of 20 (G-20) states and close Russian partner China criticized Moscow in November for its threats of nuclear weapons use in Ukraine, reflecting the growing international censure of Russian aggression over the past nine months.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo attends the closing press conference of the Group of 20 summit in Bali in November. A majority of the group condemned the Russian war in Ukraine and said the threat or use of nuclear weapons is “inadmissible.”  (Photo by Wang Yiliang/Xinhua via Getty Images)Following its 2022 summit in Indonesia, the G-20 issued a statement on Nov. 16 saying that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy.”

“The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” the statement said. The G-20 includes China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the statement as “weighty,” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described it as “politicized.”

The G-20 statement followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial on Oct. 27 of issuing any threats to employ nuclear weapons in Russia’s war on Ukraine. “We have never said anything proactively about Russia potentially using nuclear weapons,” Putin said, arguing that using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine makes no political or military sense for Russia.

Later that day, U.S. President Joe Biden responded that “[i]f [Putin] has no intention…why is he talking about the ability to use a tactical nuclear weapon?”

For the first time, Chinese President Xi Jinping also criticized, albeit modestly, Putin’s nuclear rhetoric.

The international community must “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons” and “advocate that nuclear weapons cannot be used, a nuclear war cannot be waged, in order to prevent a nuclear crisis” in Europe or Asia, Xi said on Nov. 4.

He agreed to a stronger denunciation of Russia in a joint statement released after meeting Biden on Nov. 14, their first in-person meeting since Biden took office.

In that exchange, the two presidents “reiterated their agreement that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won and underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” according to a White House readout.

Xi’s recent statements have stood out as particularly notable because, throughout the war, Beijing has consistently stood by and offered support to Moscow.

But China tempered the light criticism of Russia in a Nov. 15 statement following a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Lavrov on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

“China has noted that Russia recently reiterated its established position that a nuclear war must never be fought,” said the statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and this “represents a rational and responsible attitude of Russia.”

Statements by the G-20 and Russian partner China reflect growing international censure of Russia for its aggression in Ukraine over the past nine months.

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