Russia's foreign minister rejects a US proposal to resume talks on nuclear arms control

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gestures while speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW – Russia’s top diplomat on Thursday dismissed a U.S. proposal to resume a dialogue on nuclear arms control, saying it’s impossible while Washington offers military support to Ukraine.

Speaking at his annual news conference, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West of fueling global security risks by encouraging Ukraine to ramp up strikes on Russian territory and warned that Moscow will achieve its goals in the conflict despite Western assistance for Kyiv.

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Commenting on a U.S. proposal to resume contacts in the sphere of nuclear arms control, Lavrov described it as “unacceptable,” saying that Moscow has put forward its stance in a diplomatic letter last month. He argued that for such talks to be held, Washington first needs to revise its current hostile policy toward Russia.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in June the Biden administration is ready to talk to Russia without conditions about a future nuclear arms control even as Russia-U.S. ties are at their lowest point since the Cold War, noting “it is in neither of our countries’ interest to embark on opening the competition in the strategic nuclear forces."

But Lavrov charged that Washington’s push for the revival of nuclear talks has been driven by a desire to resume inspections of Russia’s nuclear weapons sites. He described such U.S. demands as “indecent” and cynical in view of Ukraine’s attacks on Russian nuclear-capable bomber bases during the conflict.

He mocked the U.S. offer to resume nuclear arms dialogue, arguing that Washington's position amounts to saying, “we have declared you an enemy, but we’re ready to talk about how we could look at your strategic nuclear arsenal again, that’s something different.”

Extensive mutual inspections of nuclear weapons sites were envisaged by the New START treaty, which then-presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed in 2010. The inspections were halted in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and never resumed.

In February 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended Moscow’s participation in the treaty, saying Russia could not allow U.S. inspections of its nuclear sites at a time when Washington and its NATO allies have openly declared Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine as their goal. Moscow emphasized, however, that it wasn’t withdrawing from the pact altogether and would continue to respect the caps on nuclear weapons the treaty set.

The New START, the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between Russia and the United States, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. It's set to expire in 2026, and the lack of dialogue on anchoring a successor deal has worried arms control advocates.

“Amid a ‘hybrid war’ waged by Washington against Russia, we aren’t seeing any basis, not only for any additional joint measures in the sphere of arms control and reduction of strategic risks, but for any discussion of strategic stability issues with the U.S.,” he said. “We firmly link such possibility to the West fully renouncing its malicious course aimed at undermining Russia’s security and interests.”

The minister said Washington’s push for restarting nuclear arms talks is rooted in a desire to “try to establish control over our nuclear arsenal and minimize nuclear risks for itself,” but added that “those risks are emerging as a result of forceful pressure on our country.”

He accused the West of blocking any talks on ending the conflict and inciting the ramping up of attacks on Russia.

“Such encouragement and the transfer of relevant weapons shows that the West doesn’t want any constructive solution,” Lavrov said. “The West is pushing toward the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, and that raises new strategic risks.”

Asked if tensions with the West over Ukraine could spiral into a showdown resembling the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis — when the U.S. and the Soviet Union found themselves on the edge of nuclear war — Lavrov sternly warned against encouraging Ukraine to strike targets in Russia.

He specifically accused Britain of inciting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to order such attacks, although he didn't offer any proof to back the claim.

“London is literally egging on Zelenskyy to bomb any facilities anywhere in Russia,” Lavrov said.

He reaffirmed that Russia will pursue what it calls the “special military operation” regardless of Western pressure.

“We will consistently and persistently press the goals of the special military operation and we will achieve them,” he said. “They should have no hope that Russia could be defeated in any way. Those in the West who fantasize about it have failed to learn history lessons."

On other foreign policy issues, Lavrov talked at length about growing influence of the Global South and argued that Western sway in international affairs was waning.

He hailed Russia-China ties, saying they are going through their “best period in history” and are stronger than a conventional military union.

Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow's call for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, describing it as the only way to ensure security for both Palestinians and Israel. He also criticized the U.S.-led attacks on Yemen, saying that “the more the Americans and the British bomb, the less desire to talk the Houthis have."

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