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Russia stops sharing missile test info with US, opens drills

If Russia terminates such warnings about missile tests, it would be another attempt to discourage Western support for Ukraine.
Russia stops sharing missile test info with US, opens drills
Posted at 4:15 PM, Mar 29, 2023

Russia will no longer give the U.S. advance notice about its missile tests, a senior Moscow diplomat said Wednesday, as its military deployed mobile launchers in 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 envisioned by the last remaining nuclear arms pact 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 treaty, the parties also have exchanged advance warnings about test launches. 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.

If Russia terminates missile test warnings, it would mark 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.

Last month, Putin suspended the New START treaty, 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.

SEE MORE: Zelenskyy meets with UN atomic agency chief in Ukraine

The Foreign Ministry initially said Moscow would keep notifying the U.S. about planned test launches of its ballistic missiles, but Ryabkov's statement appeared to signal an abrupt change of course.

It wasn't immediately clear, however, 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."

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.

SEE MORE: Putin says Russia will station tactical nukes in Belarus

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 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."

"Now they will have to deal with changing realities," he said, adding: "We hope that NATO officials will adequately assess the seriousness of the situation."

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.


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