Russia suspends its participation in the New START treaty with the US

The US and Russia have 90% of the world's nuclear warheads.

Russia suspends its participation in the New START treaty with the US
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia February 21, 2023. Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The backstory: The US and Russia have 90% of the world's nuclear warheads. So, in 2010, former US President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). This agreement limits how many strategic nuclear warheads both countries can deploy, meaning they are ready to use. The limit is set at 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads and 700 long-range missiles and bombers. New START came into effect in 2011 and was extended for five more years in 2021. With this treaty, both countries can check one another's arsenals for compliance.

More recently: But things have gotten a bit sticky since Russia invaded Ukraine about a year ago. According to the US, Russia has already violated the agreement by not allowing inspections. Putin has also hinted that Russia could use a nuclear weapon if provoked, basically saying he'd be open to using them if things continue to escalate with the West in Ukraine.

While Russia had to retreat from some parts of Ukraine it originally invaded, it recently launched a new, aggressive offensive. So everyone's been a bit anxious about these nuclear risks. There was supposed to be a meeting in Egypt between the US and Russia about the nuclear treaty, but it was postponed (with the US blaming Russia for putting it off).

The development: On Tuesday, Russia suspended its part in the New START treaty, which is the last nuclear arms pact between Russia and the US. Putin announced this move during his state-of-the-nation address. He also said Russia isn't completely withdrawing yet, and it would still respect the caps on nuclear weapons and provide info about test launches as previously agreed with the US.

During his speech, Putin also suggested that Russia and Ukraine are victims of Western manipulation and the war was started by NATO's expansion. Putin also said that Russia would be ready to conduct nuclear weapons tests if the US does, which would go against a Cold War-era global ban on these tests.

Key comments:

"I am forced to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty," Russian Presiden Vladimir Putin said.

"Western elites aren't trying to conceal their goals, to inflict a 'strategic defeat' to Russia," Putin said in his Tuesday speech. "They intend to transform the local conflict into a global confrontation."

"It's they who have started the war. And we are using force to end it," Putin said at another point in the speech.

"We'll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does, we'll of course make sure that in any event that we are posturing appropriately for the security of our own country and that of our allies," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. "I think it matters that we continue to act responsibly in this area … it's also something the rest of the world expects of us."

"What we heard this morning was propaganda that we already know," said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni while visiting Ukraine on Tuesday. "He says (Russia) worked on diplomacy to avoid the conflict, but the truth is that there is somebody who is the invader and somebody who is defending itself."

"I have not watched it, because during this time there were missile strikes on Kherson. Twenty-one people were wounded and six were killed," said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Putin's address.