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Putin signs bill extending New START nuclear arms-control treaty

Direct Line live broadcast with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (en.Kremlin.ru/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill approving the extension of the New START nuclear arms-control treaty.

The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted unanimously on January 27 to extend the New START for five years. It was then approved quickly in the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.

The pact, signed in 2010, was set to expire on February 5.

New START, the last remaining arms-control pact between Washington and Moscow, limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550, deployed strategic delivery systems at 700, and provides for a verification regime.

In a statement on January 29, the Kremlin said the extension of the treaty “allows to preserve the transparency and predictability of strategic relations between Russia and the United States.”

On January 27, Putin hailed the extension of the treaty as a positive development in reducing global tensions, saying “no doubt it is a step in the right direction.”

Former President Donald Trump’s administration made a late attempt to negotiate limits on other categories of nuclear weapons and add China to the treaty, stalling negotiations. A bid to agree to a shorter extension also ran into complications, leaving the fate of the treaty to the incoming administration of President Joe Biden.

Biden had long advocated for extending the treaty even if it could not be strengthened and expanded. Biden and Putin confirmed an agreement on the extension during a January 26 phone call — their first direct communication since Biden took office six days earlier.

Speaking on January 29, U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said there is still more to do on arms control with Russia, including its latest weapons that are not covered by the agreement.

The deal “is not the end of the story, it is the beginning of the story on what is going to have to be serious sustained negotiations around a whole set of nuclear challenges and threats that fall outside of the New START agreement, as well as other emerging security challenges as well,” Sullivan said at a virtual conference organized by the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Extending the treaty to allow time for Moscow and Washington to negotiate a new verifiable arms-control arrangement will be welcomed by the United States’ European allies, which were already concerned after Trump withdrew from two other arms-control pacts.