US believes Russia conducting low-level nuclear tests, says official

Russian President Vladimir Putin, surrounded by top military officers and officials, tours a military flight test centre in Akhtubinsk on May 14, 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, surrounded by top military officers and officials, tours a military flight test centre in Akhtubinsk on May 14, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States believes Russia may be conducting low-level nuclear testing, in violation of a moratorium on such tests, the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency said on Wednesday (May 29).

"The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the 'zero-yield' standard," Lieutenant-General Robert P. Ashley said at an arms control forum at the Hudson Institute.

Negotiated in the 1990s, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) enjoys wide global support but must be ratified by eight more nuclear technology states - among them Israel, Iran, Egypt and the United States - to come into force.

Russia ratified the treaty in 2000.

"We believe they have the capability in the way they are set up" to conduct low-level nuclear tests that exceed the zero-yield limit set in the CTBT, Lt-Gen Ashley said.

There was no immediate response from the Russian government, but the head of the Russian State Duma Defence Committee, Mr Vladimir Shamanov, told the Interfax news agency that Lt-Gen Ashley "could not have made a more irresponsible statement".

"Nuclear tests cannot be carried out secretly," it quoted him as saying.

"These kinds of statements reveal that the professionalism of the military is systemically falling in America," he said.

US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus referred specific questions to the Defence Intelligence Agency, but charged that Russia "routinely" disregarded its international obligations and was in breach of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

"They have been in breach for several years and they have tested, produced, fielded an INF weapon... We are certainly alarmed that they continue to disregard their international obligations as it relates to arms control," she said.

Russia announced last month that it was suspending the INF Treaty after the US said it would withdraw because of violations by Moscow. Russia denies flouting the accord and has accused Washington of breaking the accord itself.