Biden, Putin extend New START at start of a difficult relationship

Washington, Feb 3 (efe-epa).- President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, have agreed to extend the New START nuclear arms treaty for another five years, making what appears to be a good start in a bilateral relationship that, by all accounts, will be a difficult one.

“Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement, adding that Moscow has continued to comply with the elements of the treaty ever since 2010 when it was signed.

The move to extend the treaty makes “the world safer,” he said, declaring that “unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all.”

He said that keeping the treaty alive guarantees that the US will have verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers until Feb. 5, 2026.

New START limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 ballistic missiles for each of the world’s two top nuclear powers and these weapons can be divided among land, air and sea-based delivery systems as each country sees fit.

Almost right from the start of his presidency, Biden had communicated to Moscow his readiness to extend for another five years this treaty, the most recent nuclear weapons pact signed between the two nations.

When this intention was made public, the day after Biden’s inauguration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that extending the pact was in US security interests, especially when relations with Russia are antagonistic, as she said they were at the moment.

She also said that the conflictive actions undertaken by Russia recently include the poisoning and sentencing to prison of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, interfering in US and other elections, offering bounties to the Taliban for killing US military personnel in Afghanistan and annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

In fact, as soon as he began his term in office, Biden asked the US intelligence agencies to undertake a thorough evaluation of these issues, without clarifying whether his aim is to maintain the political sanctions imposed on Moscow by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The extension of the pact was hailed by the Russian Embassy in Washington, which said in a statement that the treaty was a “cornerstone of international security.”

Putin signed a bill extending the treaty last Friday after the Russian Parliament voted unanimously in favor of the move, and the Kremlin said at that time that the pact “makes it possible to maintain the transparency and predictability of strategic relations between Russia and the United States and to support global strategic stability.”

Also on Tuesday, Washington expressed its deep concern over a Russian court’s sentencing Navalny to 3.5 years in prison, demanding his immediate and unconditional release, along with the release of the “hundreds” of other Russian citizens who have been unfairly arrested in recent weeks for exercising their right to express their opposition to the Putin government.

Regarding the arms control issue, Biden, just like Trump before him, had the option to seek a temporary solution to the pending expiration of the treaty and extend it for a short period, but he decided to extend it for another five years, as established in the accord when it was first signed in 2010.

During the last few months of Trump’s presidency, the ex-president’s administration tried without success to find a temporary solution and extend the pact for a short period, but he was unable to agree on any specific framework with Putin, who last October proposed extending the pact for one year.

The main point of friction between the two powers was the insistence by the Trump administration that China be brought into the talks, despite the fact that the Asian giant had refused to come to the negotiating table, arguing that it has significantly fewer nuclear weapons than either Washington or Moscow.

But Biden does not seem ready to give up on incorporating China into such an agreement.

Blinken said that during the five-year extension of the New START pact the new US administration will pursue a comprehensive arms control treaty incorporating all US and Russian nukes and will also pursue “arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.”

The secretary of state said that Biden has made clear that extending the pact is just the beginning of US efforts to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century.

Meanwhile, Russia contends that if the negotiations are to be expanded to include other countries, they should also include France and the United Kingdom, the other two declared nuclear powers who are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

At present, extending New START keeps the verification regime alive whereby Washington can acquire better knowledge of Russia’s nuclear stance, including an ongoing exchange of data and in situ inspections that allow US inspectors to monitor the Russian nuclear forces and installations, Blinken added.

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