Russia Rejects U.S. Proposal to Reopen Arms-Control Dialogue

Experts fear new arms race after New Start treaty expires in 2026

Russia has rejected an American proposal to reopen an arms-control dialogue with Washington, saying the U.S. was pursuing a hostile policy toward Moscow, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The absence of talks between the two sides on reducing nuclear risks and potential arms-control steps comes during the worst downturn in U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War and has raised fears of a new arms race.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a speech in June that the U.S. was prepared to begin the talks without preconditions. And the Biden administration followed up with a confidential paper a few months later proposing such talks and outlining ideas on how to manage nuclear risks.

But Moscow responded with its own diplomatic paper in late December, saying that it wasn’t interested in resuming arms-control talks, complaining that the U.S. was seeking the strategic defeat of Russia through its support of Ukraine, U.S. officials say.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized Russia’s position on Thursday, telling a press conference in Moscow that the U.S. needed to revise its policy toward Russia before a dialogue on nuclear arms control could be held.

The New Start treaty, which limits long-range U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, is due to expire in February 2026 and other arms-control agreements have collapsed.

One purpose of the arms-control dialogue the U.S. had been hoping to begin with Moscow was to start “a conversation on what a framework after New Start could look like” and reduce nuclear dangers while tensions are high over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a senior administration official said last year.

Pentagon and other Biden administration national security officials are considering what steps the U.S. might take if the arms-control process grinds to a halt and the expansion of China’s nuclear forces adds to the threat facing the U.S.

A congressionally mandated commission on the U.S. Strategic Posture said in October that the U.S. needed to prepare to expand its nuclear forces in the years ahead to deter the twin threat from Russia and China.

U.S. arms-control proponents criticized Moscow’s stance, saying that it risked fueling a new arms race.

“Russia’s rejection of the U.S. offer for discussions of nuclear risk reduction and arms control is a violation of Moscow’s obligation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to engage in negotiations on disarmament and bring an end to the arms race,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a private group that supports arms-control agreements. 

In February, Russia said that it was suspending its participation in the New Start treaty. Despite that, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said that Moscow plans to observe the limits on the number of strategic warheads that can be deployed under the accord until it expires to maintain “stability in the nuclear missile area.”

While Lavrov didn’t reject the possibility of arms-control talks if the Biden administration’s policies toward Moscow changed, he said that ideas sketched out in the U.S.’s confidential paper didn’t address Russia’s concerns.

“They want the nonnuclear component of military confrontation, conventional forces, to be taken out of the equation,” Lavrov said. “The goal is obviously to consolidate the serious quantitative advantage that the collective West has in this area.”

Pranay Vaddi, a senior arms-control official on President Biden’s National Security Council, said Russia’s response didn’t address in any detail the concrete ideas in the U.S. proposal on how to reduce nuclear risks.

“We didn’t get any sort of substantive feedback on the things that we wanted to talk about,” Vaddi told a meeting hosted Thursday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Those U.S. ideas included the sort of arms-control framework that might be put in place after the New Start treaty expires and ways to address Washington’s allegations that Russia has violated that accord, as well as other risk-reduction measures.

Instead, Vaddi said, Russia’s response had sought to broaden any consideration of arms-control issues to include Russia’s objections to the possibility of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s further expansion and U.S. support for Ukraine.

“They have linked other politics to arms control in a way that has not been done in the post-Cold War era,” Vaddi said. “As a result, we don’t have a conversation to be had.”