Biden and Putin Commit to Urgently Working to Extend Nuclear Treaty

January 26, 2021 Updated: January 26, 2021

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 26 committed to having their teams urgently work on extending the New START nuclear treaty before it expires on Feb. 5, according to a readout of the call released by the White House.

“They discussed both countries’ willingness to extend New START for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension by February 5,” the readout states. “They also agreed to explore strategic stability discussions on a range of arms control and emerging security issues.”

Signed in 2010, the treaty limits the number strategic nuclear warheads deployed by each nation to 1,550 and the number of deployed missiles and bombers to 700.

Since the signing of the treaty, Russia has announced the development and deployment of several missiles that pose serious challenges to U.S. missile defenses, including a nuclear-powered nuclear missile with a virtually unlimited range, the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, and the Avangard glide vehicle.

At the end of 2019, Russia committed to extending the treaty without any preconditions, according to Petr Topychkanov, a senior researcher in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme. As a result, Moscow may not be in a position to demand new conditions, Topychkanov said.

“It was a clear Russian position that Moscow was ready to accept the New START treaty without any preconditions, without any basket approach, and without any attempts to resolve issues related to short- and medium-range missiles, and ballistic missile defense, and outer space, and so on,” Topychkanov said.

The Trump administration waited until last year to start talks and made the extension contingent on a set of demands. The talks stalled, and months of bargaining have failed to narrow differences.

The United States and Russia traded documents Tuesday related to extending the treaty, the Kremlin said. A Kremlin readout of a phone call between Biden and Putin said the two leaders voiced satisfaction with the exchange of diplomatic notes about extending the treaty.

“In the nearest days, the parties will complete the necessary procedures that will ensure further functioning of this important international legal nuclear arms control tool,” the Kremlin said.

The pact’s extension doesn’t require congressional approval in the United States, but Russian lawmakers must ratify the move. Top members of the Kremlin-controlled parliament said they would fast-track the issue and complete the necessary steps to extend the treaty this week.

Biden indicated during the campaign that he favored the preservation of the New START treaty, which was negotiated during his tenure as vice president during the Obama administration.

New START is the only remaining nuclear arms control deal between the two countries after both sides withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019. Washington accused Moscow of violating the treaty.

Earlier this month, Russia also announced that it would follow the United States to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed surveillance flights over military facilities. The Kremlin said Putin and Biden discussed the Open Skies pact along with other issues during their Tuesday call.

President Donald Trump attempted to bring China, which is not constrained by any treaty, into New START. The Trump administration then proposed to extend New START for just one year and also sought to expand it to include limits on battlefield nuclear weapons.

On the call with Putin, Biden brought a number of issues that have heightened tensions between the two nations, including his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, the SolarWinds hack, interference in the 2020 United States election, and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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