Russia accuses US of upsetting nuke arms balance by letting critical arms control treaty lapse

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Publish date: October 7, 2008

Written by: Charles Digges

The United States is upsetting the nuclear arms balance by failing to offer a full replacement for the START nuclear arms control treaty when it expires in 2009, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper, an official Kremlin mouthpiece.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed in Moscow in 1991, set ceilings on the size of the Russian and US nuclear arsenals and became a symbol of the end of the Cold War.

It also helped set a more open stage for bi-lateral agreements between the United States in Russia in the area of arms destruction, the hallmark of which remains the Nunn-Lugar programme, also known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction programme.

Under Nunn-Lugar, which was signed in 1992, the nuclear arsenals of former Soviet republics were brought to heel, thousands of nuclear missiles destroyed, nuclear submarines dismantled, large portions of the Russian nuclear military complex immobilised, and verifications from Washington made routine.

But President George Bush’s administration plans to let the START treaty expire, and to replace it with a less formal agreement that eliminates strict verification requirements, Reuters reported. The policy of letting several arms control agreements and weapons destruction efforts falter have been a hallmark of the Bush administration in its distracted and scattered dealings with Russia.

Though Lavrov conceded that that the likelihood of an attack on Russia by the United States was "absolutely unimaginable,” he nonetheless accused Washington of dangerously shrugging off the nuclear arms control regime that was set with considerable shuttle diplomacy at the end of the Cold War.

"I believe this is a most dangerous path," Rossiiskaya Gazeta quoted Lavrov as saying in an interview published Tuesday.

"All this increases instability several times over. Parity in strategic offensive and defensive weapons is being undermined," Lavrov said.

Lavrov said Bush, at a meeting with Russian leaders on the Black Sea in April, had promised new proposals on a replacement for START that would take into account Russian concerns.

"We have been given such promises several times," Lavrov was quoted as saying. "We are still waiting."

Lavrov said the need for a binding, verifiable arms treaty was greater than ever at a time when the United States is planning to station elements of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Lavrov said Russia remained committed to the so-called "2+2" talks, which bring together the Russian foreign and defense ministers with the US Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.

The last such meeting — to discuss the missile shield and strategic arms control treaties — was in Moscow in March this year.

"We are ready to meet again," Lavrov was quoted as saying in the Rossiikskaya Gazata interview.