A high-level Russian official on Wednesday asserted again that the Kremlin has the right to move nuclear weapons into the disputed Crimean peninsula, which Russian troops invaded last year — and suggested that a key nuclear arms control agreement between the U.S. and Russia is in danger of breaking down.
On the question of sending nuclear weapons into Crimea, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Mikhail Ulyanov as saying, “I don't know if there are nuclear weapons there now. I don't know about any plans, but in principle Russia can do it.” It’s a position that other Russian officials have articulated in the past. Ulyanov’s boss, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, made similar comments in December.
More surprising was Ulyanov’s warning about the status of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty, signed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1987. The deal was designed to eliminate the two countries’ stocks of nuclear and ballistic missiles with ranges of between 300 and 3,400 miles.
The escalating rhetoric over nuclear weapons comes as tensions continue to rise in Europe. On Tuesday, Russia formally withdrew from a different treaty limiting conventional armed forces in Europe. Over the weekend, the president of the European Commission called for a Pan-European Army specifically to serve as a counterweight against Russia’s aggression.
The U.S. has repeatedly called on Russia to admit to violations of the nuclear treaty. The Kremlin, not surprisingly, has declined to do so.
The government-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reported on comments made by Ulyanov Wednesday morning. “Some actions by our U.S. colleagues cause great surprise,” he reportedly said. “In their scheme of things we are expected to say voluntarily what we have violated and to confess violations. This kind of approach does not look serious to us.”
Ulyanov charged that the U.S. is undermining global stability and making progress toward nuclear disarmament more difficult, TASS reported. Ulyanov reportedly said the presence of U.S. anti-ballistic missiles in Europe and “development of high-precision strategic non-nuclear weapons” are damaging the prospects for continued cooperation on nuclear arms issues.
"In such circumstances, the continuation of the nuclear disarmament process seems problematic,” he said.
"The discussion with the United States on this subject will go on. Its outcome is anyone’s guess,” he added before concluding with the backhanded assurance that “at this point it would be wrong to say that the treaty is falling apart.”
U.S. officials have already accused Russia of repeatedly violating the nuclear treaty by developing new weapons of the kind it specifically banned. Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, that in the face of continued violations, “U.S. responses must make clear to Russia that if it does not return to compliance, our responses will make them less secure than they are today.”
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