Putin halts plutonium disposal deal with 'unfriendly' US

Freeze of nuclear control pact a sign of increasingly icy ties

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended an agreement with the United States on disposing of weapons-grade plutonium, a further sign of worsening ties between the former Cold War foes.

Russia also wants the US to cancel all sanctions and pay compensation for the damage caused if Moscow is to resume the agreement, according to a draft law submitted by Mr Putin yesterday.

The deal, which was signed in 2000 and went into force under a 2010 agreement, was being suspended due to "the emergence of a threat to strategic stability and as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation", said the preamble to the Russian decree signed.

NOT WORKING TOGETHER ANY MORE

It's a symbolic gesture that demonstrates that the sides no longer cooperate in this sphere.

INDEPENDENT MILITARY EXPERT ALEXANDER GOLTS, on the suspension

It also said the US was unable "to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilise surplus weapons-grade plutonium".

The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium. Mrs Clinton said at the time that that was enough material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Both sides then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former adversaries towards a joint goal of nuclear non-proliferation.

Ties between Moscow and Washington plunged to freezing point when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and gave support to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine after protests in Kiev toppled pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Washington led a campaign to impose Western economic sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Mr Putin earlier this year accused the US of not honouring the agreement by disposing of plutonium in a way that allowed it to retain its defence capabilities.

The US-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement obliged Moscow and Washington to dispose of no less than 34 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium by irradiating it or transforming it into so-called MOX (mixed oxide) fuel.

The building of a MOX fuel reprocessing plant was opposed in the US in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan over safety fears and the high cost of the project, which is already billions of dollars over budget.

US energy officials have pushed for using another method of disposal, calling for plutonium to be mixed with other substances and stored underground, but Moscow argues that any method to dilute plutonium is reversible.

The suspension is symbolic of the breakdown in nuclear non-proliferation cooperation, according to independent military expert Alexander Golts.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline 'Putin halts plutonium disposal deal with 'unfriendly' US'. Print Edition | Subscribe