Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Serguei Riabkov warned last Wednesday that the risk of a nuclear conflict in the world is currently the highest in several decades, alluding to tensions with the West over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Within the framework of the Valdai debating club, Riabkov assured that the risk of nuclear conflict “is the greatest we have had in recent decades”, although Russia continues to maintain that “the world must be free and safe from the nuclear threat”.
The Russian diplomat admitted that now Russia is, “de facto, in open conflict with the United States”, which he accused of being “practically” part of the conflict in Ukraine. For this reason, Russia cannot behave “as before” and the direct consequence is the suspension of the last nuclear disarmament treaty in force between Russia and the US, START III or New START.
In turn, he considered that the possibility of Moscow returning to START III compliance totally lacks “political sense”, the application of which was suspended by Russian President Vladimir Putin last month. “It was necessary to have done it before reaching an agreement, now that is impossible. From a legal point of view, the treaty has been totally suspended by us,” he stressed, adding that when assessing the future of the treaty, which expires in 2026, Moscow will have into account the “joint arsenal” of the US, UK and France.
Riabkov stressed that at this time “there are no points of agreement” between both parties and that the only condition on the table is that Washington changes the “hostile course” it has taken towards Russia since 2010. In his opinion, the “absolutely unprecedented” level of hostility from the US, the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and the all-out hybrid war against Ukraine “has radically altered the security situation” for Russia.
In turn, he recalled that the presidents of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and China, Xi Jinping, proclaimed the day before in their joint declaration that “there can be no victors in a nuclear war”, so “it must never be unleashed”. In the document, adopted in the framework of Xi’s state visit, the leaders asked the five signatory countries of the joint declaration on the prevention of nuclear war and an arms race (the US, Russia, China, France and the UK) that follow its key tenets.
This includes “the effective reduction of the risk of nuclear war and any armed conflict between States possessing nuclear weapons”. In November 2022, both countries were going to resume the strategic dialogue in Cairo, but Russia decided at the last minute to postpone it indefinitely due to Washington’s “unwillingness” to take Russian priorities into account.
The United States had suspended the dialogue on arms control after Russia’s war intervention in Ukraine. Moscow in turn informed Washington in August of its decision to ban US inspections “in situ” of its arsenal of nuclear weapons, alleging difficulties in doing the same in the US due to Western sanctions regarding overflight permits and granting of visas to Russian officials.
In February 2021, Putin and his American counterpart, Joe Biden, extended the last treaty for five years of nuclear disarmament in force between both powers, which had been signed in 2010.