Russia stops sharing missile test info with US, opens drills

March 29, 2023 GMT
1 of 8
This photo made from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, shows a Yars missile launcher of the Russian armed forces being driven from a shelter in an undisclosed location in Russia. The Russian military on Wednesday launched drills of its strategic missile forces, deploying Yars mobile launchers in Siberia in a show of the country's massive nuclear capability amid the fighting in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
1 of 8
This photo made from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, shows a Yars missile launcher of the Russian armed forces being driven from a shelter in an undisclosed location in Russia. The Russian military on Wednesday launched drills of its strategic missile forces, deploying Yars mobile launchers in Siberia in a show of the country's massive nuclear capability amid the fighting in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will no longer give the U.S. advance notice about its missile tests as envisioned under a nuclear pact the Kremlin has suspended, a senior Moscow diplomat said Wednesday, as its military rolled missile launchers across Siberia in a show of the country’s massive nuclear capability amid fighting in Ukraine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies that Moscow has halted all information exchanges with Washington under the last remaining nuclear arms treaty with the U.S. after suspending its participation in it last month.

Along with the data about the current state of the countries’ nuclear forces routinely released every six months in compliance with the New START treaty, the parties also have exchanged advance warnings about test launches and deployments of their nuclear weapons. Such notices have been an essential element of strategic stability for decades, allowing Russia and the United States to correctly interpret each other’s moves and make sure that neither country mistakes a test launch for a missile attack.

The termination of information exchanges under the pact marks yet another attempt by the Kremlin to discourage the West from ramping up its support for Ukraine by pointing to Russia’s massive nuclear arsenal. In recent days, President Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to the territory of Moscow’s ally Belarus.

Putin suspended the New START treaty last month, saying Russia can’t accept U.S. inspections of its nuclear sites under the agreement at a time when Washington and its NATO allies have openly declared Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine as their goal. Moscow emphasized that it wasn’t withdrawing from the pact altogether and would continue to respect the caps on nuclear weapons the treaty set.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Ryabkov’s statement indicated Moscow’s intention to terminate all warnings about missile tests or just those envisioned by the New START treaty. Moscow and Washington have exchanged notifications about test launches of ballistic missiles since the Cold War era, and the Foreign Ministry said last month that Russia will keep issuing them in line with a 1988 U.S.-Soviet agreement.

“There will be no notifications at all,” Ryabkov said in remarks reported by Russian news agencies when asked if Moscow would also stop issuing notices about planned missile tests. “All notifications, all kinds of notifications, all activities within the framework of the treaty will be suspended and will not be conducted regardless of what position the U.S. may take.”

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said the Biden administration was aware of Ryabkov’s comments but it has not “received any notice indicating a change.”

He added that Washington has “across-the-board concerns about Russia’s reckless behavior as it relates to the New START treaty.”

Heather Williams, director of the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank, said Russia’s rhetoric was concerning but fits a pattern of behavior related to Ukraine.

”They use nuclear weapons to turn up the volume on a lot of their other activities, and arms control treaties are just the latest way for Russia to try to advance its goals in Ukraine,” she said.

Of more concern, Williams said, is that the collapse of New START has caused a severe reduction in communications between Washington and Moscow, which could be dangerous. “One of the biggest tragedies of the breakdown in New START is the loss of the communication channel,” she said.

Pavel Podvig, an expert on Russian nuclear forces, tweeted that Ryabkov’s reference to the termination of notices in the context of the New START indicated that Russia will keep issuing them in conformity with the 1988 pact.

Ryabkov’s announcement followed U.S. officials’ statement that Moscow and Washington have stopped sharing biannual nuclear weapons data that were envisioned by the New START treaty. Officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department said the U.S. had offered to continue providing this information to Russia even after Putin suspended its participation in the treaty, but Moscow told Washington it would not be sharing its own data.

The New START, signed in 2010 by then-Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. The agreement envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

The inspections have been put on hold since 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions on resuming them were supposed to have taken place in November 2022, but Russia abruptly called them off, citing U.S. support for Ukraine.

As part of the Russian drills that began Wednesday, Yars mobile missile launchers will maneuver across three regions of Siberia, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. The movements will involve measures to conceal the deployment from foreign satellites and other intelligence assets, the ministry said.

The Defense Ministry didn’t say how long the drills would last or mention plans for any practice launches. The Yars is a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of about 11,000 kilometers (over 6,800 miles). It forms the backbone of Russia’s strategic missile forces.

A Defense Ministry video shows trucks carrying the missiles driving from a base to go on patrol. The maneuvers involve about 300 vehicles and 3,000 troops in eastern Siberia, according to the ministry.

The exercise took place days after Putin announced a plan to deploy the tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and ally. Such weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a relatively short range and a much lower yield compared with the long-range strategic missiles fitted with nuclear warheads that are capable of obliterating whole cities.

Putin’s decision on the tactical weapons followed his repeated warnings that Moscow was ready to use “all available means” — a reference to its nuclear arsenal — to fend off attacks on Russian territory.

Ryabkov said Wednesday that Putin’s move followed the failure by Kyiv’s allies to heed previous “serious signals” from Moscow because of what he described as the “fundamental irresponsibility of Western elites before their people and international security.”

Russian officials have issued a barrage of hawkish statements since their troops entered Ukraine, warning that the continuing Western support for Kyiv raised the threat of a nuclear conflict.

In remarks published Tuesday, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, which Putin chairs, sternly warned the U.S. and its allies against harboring hopes for Russia’s defeat in Ukraine.

Patrushev alleged that some American politicians believe the U.S. could launch a preventative missile strike on Russia to which Moscow would be unable to respond, a purported belief that he described as “short-sighted stupidity, which is very dangerous.”

“Russia is patient and isn’t trying to scare anyone with its military superiority, but it has unique modern weapons capable of destroying any adversary, including the United States, in case of a threat to its existence,” Patrushev said.

___

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.