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Russia and U.S. cut each other off from key info on nuclear weapons

The United States is returning the favor regarding the sharing of nuclear data after Russia suspended its participation in the New START Treaty last month.

Russia has not provided the U.S. with data as was formerly customary under the obligations of the treaty, U.S. officials said Tuesday at a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing pertaining to a 2024 fiscal year budget request for nuclear weapon modernization, sustainment and policy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told fellow lawmakers February 21 that a temporary suspension would occur on Russia’s behalf, putting the only remaining nuclear arms control deal between Russia and the U.S. in limbo.

“Yesterday, we had a further interaction with Russia, pressing them on the upcoming end of the month; there is due a semi-annual data exchange every six months, under the treaty, we exchange data on kind of high-level numbers,” John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, told bipartisan members. “Russia responded that they will not be providing that information. And so as a diplomatic countermeasure, the United States will not be providing that information back.”

A 10-year agreement between both nations started in 2011 and was renewed for five years in 2021. The agreement stipulates that neither nation is allowed to deploy more than 1,150 strategic nuclear warheads.

Plumb said Russia’s “nuclear saber rattling” the past year is a result of falling short of its strategic military goals in Ukraine. He referred to it as the latest “in a pattern of irresponsible behavior.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, attends a meeting with Transport Minister at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 25, 2023. U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to Wolfspeed, a semiconductor manufacturer, as he kicks off his Investing in America Tour on March 28, 2023, in Durham, North Carolina. On Tuesday U.S. defense officials announced that nuclear data would not be provided to Russia going forward due to their suspension as part of the New START treaty.
GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images; Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The U.S. strengthening its own side of the bargain comes short days after Putin announced the stationing of nuclear weapons in Belarus for the first time in decades, due to what he claimed was the United Kingdom providing Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

“We are going to continue to examine what are the diplomatic countermeasures [that] are appropriate,” Plumb said. “What we’re trying to do is balance both responding to Russia’s irresponsible behavior but to continue to demonstrate what we believe a responsible nuclear power’s action should be.”

An unspecified National Security Council spokesperson called the United States’ decision “a lawful countermeasure intended to encourage Russia to return to compliance with the treaty,” CNN reported, adding that additional failures to exchange data will be recorded as treaty violations and added to existing ones and noted that “Russia’s failure to exchange this data will…be a violation of the treaty, adding on to its existing violations of the New START Treaty.”

“In the interest of strategic stability, the United States will continue to promote public transparency on our nuclear force levels and posture,” the spokesperson said.

Russia views things from an opposite perspective. Its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, rebuffed statements made by the U.S. State Department—that all Russia has to do is rejoin the treaty and allow inspection activities for full compliance.

Antonov called the accusations made last month “sensational” and claimed that the U.S. violated the accord. He also blamed the U.S. and the West for conducting a “hybrid war” to Ukraine’s benefit.

The new budget proposal requests $37.7 billion to fully fund the “modernization of the nuclear triad” as well as fully fund all U.S. nuclear security infrastructure and nuclear command, control and communications architecture.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks called the $3 billion in additional proposed spending part of “the most strategy-aligned budget in history.”

“The U.S. is on the verge of a challenging and dangerous moment in which we will face two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors for the first time: Russia and China,” Plumb said Tuesday. “Both are investing heavily in nuclear weapons and forces to hold the U.S. and our allies and partners at risk, but neither is demonstrating the behaviors associated with responsible nuclear weapon states.”

China’s rapid expansion and modernization, compounded with its lack of dialogue with the U.S., “breeds mistrust in peacetime and can lead to miscalculation in crisis,” he added.

Newsweek reached out to the Kremlin and Pentagon for comment.

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