Russia to end cold war disarmament programme with the US

Moscow says it will not renew a 20-year-old programme with the US that led to the dismantling of arms in the former Soviet Union

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 4:03am

The Russian government said it would not renew a hugely successful 20-year partnership with the United States to safeguard and dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union when the programme expires next spring, a potentially grave setback in the fraying relationship between the former cold war enemies.

The Kremlin's refusal to renew the Nunn-Lugar Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme would end a multibillion-dollar effort, financed largely by US taxpayers, that is widely credited with removing all nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

The programme has also led to the deactivation of more than 7,600 strategic nuclear warheads, and the elimination of huge stockpiles of nuclear missiles and chemical weapons, as well as launchers and other equipment and military sites that supported unconventional weapons.

"The American side knows that we would not want a new extension," a deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on Wednesday . "This is not news."

In a statement on its website, the Russian foreign ministry said the Obama administration had proposed renewing the arrangement but Washington was well aware of Russia's opposition. "American partners know that their proposal is not consistent with our ideas about what forms and on what basis further co-operation should be built," the statement said.

Russian officials, meanwhile, said their country's financial situation was far improved from the days after the collapse of the Soviet Union, raising the possibility Russia would be willing to continue initiatives started under the agreement, but with its own financing and supervision. The foreign ministry, in its statement, said Russia had increased its budget allocation "in the field of disarmament".

US officials, including one of the original architects of the programme, Senator Richard Lugar previously said they still had hope of reaching some form of new agreement with Russia.

But the prospects seem bleak. President Vladimir Putin, while expressing a willingness to co-operate on nonproliferation issues, has said a more pressing priority is to address Russia's opposition to US plans for a missile defence system based in Europe.

US President Barack Obama has shown little willingness to make any concessions, other than to offer repeated reassurance the system is not intended for use against Russia. And the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, seems even less likely to compromise on the missile defence issue.

Lugar, who is leaving the Senate at the end of this year, visited Moscow in August to begin pressing for renewal of the programme and found Russian officials resistant. "The Russian government indicated a desire to make changes to the Nunn-Lugar Umbrella Agreement as opposed to simply extending it," he said. "At no time did officials indicate … they were intent on ending it, only amending it."

But Lugar, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, lost a primary election this year in his bid for a seventh term, and he has acknowledged that few lawmakers seem willing to carry on his efforts, which began in partnership with former senator Sam Nunn.

During his August visit to Moscow, Lugar said he hoped the US and Russia could use their past successes as a basis for expanding their efforts to reduce the threat of unconventional weapons in other countries.

Russian officials, however, seem increasingly unwilling to let the United States set the agenda in global diplomacy.