Russian President Vladimir Putin is no longer interested in a joint freeze of nuclear weapons production with the United States, according to a senior Russian envoy who protested American inspections requests and a recent agreement to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.
“No, it was a one-time offer, and it was said so to the U.S. They missed the opportunity,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Geneva Center for Security Policy, per state media. “They didn’t want a freeze on all warheads — they wanted an extremely intrusive verification and control at all our nuclear-related facilities.”
Ryabkov aired the withdrawal of that proposal following a meeting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman for what both sides described as “intensive and substantive” arms control talks. He complained about the U.S. and United Kingdom’s decision to partner with Australia on a submarine deal widely perceived as directed at China, and both Russian and American officials underscored that the negotiations are unlikely to produce a deal anytime soon.
“Arms control dialogues take a very long time,” Sherman said Friday. “The dialogue has a value in and of itself because it unveils norms that we both believe in and want to establish as the [two nations with the] largest number of nuclear weapons, so it’s very good in and of itself.”
The Ryabkov-Sherman meeting comes months after President Joe Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when the two leaders echoed Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev’s affirmation that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” That joint statement drew criticism from Marshall Billingslea, former President Donald Trump’s point man for arms control, who observed that Putin “believes that a nuclear war CAN be fought & won” and faulted Biden for making a joint statement while “knowing Putin to be lying.”
Russia has adopted a military doctrine that contemplates the use of nuclear weapons to win a conflict in Eastern Europe before U.S. forces can intervene, according to Western officials, spurring at least one NATO ally to warn publicly that Russian might launch a nuclear “blitzkrieg” against one of its neighbors. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Reagan-Gorbachev treaty that banned the development of intermediate-range land-based ballistic missiles after Republicans and Democrats, as well as the rest of NATO, assessed that Putin has developed and deployed such systems in defiance of the treaty.
Putin acknowledged in December that an arms race “has already begun,” but Ryabkov argued a more one-sided case on Friday, when he attributed any arms control tensions to an American quest “for decisive unilateral advantages at the expense of Russia’s security.”
He broadened his complaints about NATO member-state decisions to include U.S. and British efforts to upgrade their defenses against Chinese threats.
“We are concerned especially by the statements produced earlier in the year in London on future prospects for expansion of its nuclear capabilities,” Ryabkov said, referring to a British plan to increase its nuclear stockpile in response to “China’s military modernization and growing international assertiveness within the Indo-Pacific region.”
And he maintained that the recent U.S. decision to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia is “a great challenge to the international nonproliferation regime” despite Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s stipulation that the deal will cover nuclear power for the submarines but no nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials have expressed doubt about whether they’ll be able to reach another arms control deal with Russia, but Sherman and Ryabkov separately touted the launch of two working groups on arms control as a positive step.
“We all hope that we head to achieving some objectives about moving forward,” she said.