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Head of Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization says Russia’s move to de-ratify treaty ‘regrettable’

Testing of Russia's Burevestnik nuclear-powered missile. (Russian Ministry of Defense/Released)

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

The head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) said on October 18 it was “deeply regrettable” that Russian lawmakers had moved toward revoking ratification of the treaty.

“Today’s decision by the State Duma of the Russian Federation to pass a law revoking Russia’s ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is very disappointing and deeply regrettable,” CTBTO chief Robert Floyd said in a statement. “This decision goes against renewed global determination to see the CTBT enter into force.”

The State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower chamber, earlier on October 18 approved a bill revoking the ratification of the CTBT.

Lawmakers passed the second and third readings of the bill unanimously, with 415 votes in favor, no abstentions and votes against.

The move, which comes amid heightened tensions with the West, was initiated earlier this month by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said it would “mirror” the position of the United States. The United States is among five countries that signed but never ratified the 1996 pact.

The treaty, which prohibits tests involving nuclear explosions, has made such tests taboo. Only North Korea has carried out such a test this century, most recently in September 2017.

But the Russian move to start a procedure to revoke the ratification of the pact prompted concerns in the West that were compounded on October 17 by statements from parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Security Council, that Moscow might abandon the principles of the pact altogether.

Volodin told parliament that “what we will do next, whether we remain a party to the treaty or not, we will not tell them,” adding the move was a wake-up call for Washington.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that revoking the ratification of the treaty would not mean that Moscow would start conducting nuclear tests.

Russia has previously said it would resume nuclear tests “only after the United States carries out similar testing.”

The CTBT has been signed by 187 countries and ratified by 178 but cannot go into force until eight holdouts — China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and the United States — have signed and ratified it.

Though the United States has not ratified the treaty, it has observed a moratorium on nuclear weapons test explosions since 1992 and says it has no plans to abandon the treaty.

Since the beginning of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, various pro-Kremlin politicians and public figures, including government officials, have spoken about the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons or at least resuming nuclear testing.

Speaking on October 5 at a forum with foreign affairs experts, Putin said it would be up to the State Duma whether Russia revokes the ratification.

In the wake of the statements, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “all nuclear weapon states to publicly reaffirm their moratoriums against nuclear testing and their commitment to the CTBT.”