Russian Lawmakers Approve Extension of Nuclear Arms Pact with U.S.

MOSCOW (Reuters) -
Sailors on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt/Handout via REUTERS)

Russia’s parliament on Wednesday approved a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the United States, which a senior official said had been agreed on Moscow’s terms at the eleventh hour before it expires next week.

Signed in 2010, the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is a cornerstone of global arms control and limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers that Russia and the United States can deploy.

The White House did not immediately confirm a Kremlin announcement on Tuesday of a deal to extend the treaty but said new President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed the issue by telephone and agreed that their teams work urgently to complete the pact by Feb. 5, the expiry date.

Both Russia’s lower and upper houses of parliament, the State Duma and Federation Council, rushed through votes on Wednesday to approve the extension of the last major pact of its kind between the two nuclear powers.

“The essence of the agreement is to extend it for five years, as it was signed, without any changes,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Duma.

The next step is expected to be President Vladimir Putin signing the legislation.

Ryabkov said the treaty would be formally extended once Russia and the United States had exchanged diplomatic notes after completing all their respective domestic procedures.

He said the extension had been agreed “on our terms”, the TASS news agency reported.

Moscow and Washington had failed to agree an extension under former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration had wanted to attach conditions to a renewal that Moscow rejected.

Addressing a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Putin cast the extension as “a step in the right direction” – at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are strained in other areas.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of the Federation Council, described it as a good treaty that ensured Russia’s national security.

“If the treaty had not been extended, ceilings and quantitative limits would have disappeared, which would open the opportunity for an arms race,” he said.