President Biden wants a five-year extension of the New START nuclear weapons treaty with the Kremlin and is asking his spy chief to provide intelligence assessments on Russian meddling in the 2020 election and on other malign actions by Russia around the world.
The New START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, was signed by former President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and ratified by the Senate in 2010, placing limits on the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and deployed strategic delivery systems for the two countries. The Trump administration did not reach a deal with Russia on extending the treaty before leaving office.
“I can confirm that the United States intends to seek a five-year extension of New START as the treaty permits,” Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Thursday press conference. “The president has long been clear that the New START treaty is in the national security interests of the United States. This extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time. New START is the only remaining treaty constraining Russian nuclear forces, and it is an anchor of strategic stability between our two countries.”
Ryan Tully, the former senior director for Europe and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council, who resigned after the storming of the Capitol in early January, criticized the Biden administration plan on Thursday.
“This means large swaths of the Russian deterrent will remain unconstrained. This includes the 2,000 such ‘non-strategics’ and ‘novel’ doomsday systems, such as their SKYFALL system, otherwise known as the road-mobile flying Chernobyl,” Tully said. “China is also rapidly modernizing its nuclear stockpile. This increase is in both size and diversity. Includes road-mobile ICBMs, multi-warhead ICBMs, and SLBMs. This trend will no doubt continue over the life of this New START extension.”
Tully added: “In short, over the life of this extension, both China and Russia will increase numbers and modernize their deterrents. This New START extension makes it all the more important that the U.S. modernization program continues apace.”
Psaki also confirmed that Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has been asked to put together an intelligence assessment about possible Russian interference in the 2020 election, alleged bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the poisoning of Russian dissident leader Alexei Navalny. Biden is also seeking a “full assessment” of the massive SolarWinds hack, which breached the U.S. government and thousands of public and private customers in late 2020.
While former President Donald Trump was in office, the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint statement that said the hack was “likely Russian in origin.”
“Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, so too we work to hold Russia to account for its reckless and adversarial actions,” Psaki told reporters.
Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien in October criticized Russia’s handling of negotiations over extending the treaty, which is set to expire in early February.
“The United States proposed an extension of New START for one year, in exchange for Russia and the United States capping all nuclear warheads during that period,” O’Brien said at the time. “This would have been a win for both sides, and we believed the Russians were willing to accept this proposal when I met with my counterpart in Geneva. President Putin’s response today to extend New START without freezing nuclear warheads is a non-starter. The United States is serious about arms control that will keep the entire world safe. We hope that Russia will reevaluate its position before a costly arms race ensues.”
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