Russia and US extend arms pact, Kremlin says, as Biden and Putin talk

A 2011 photo shows Biden (left) meeting Putin in Moscow. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Russia and the United States have struck a deal to extend the New Start nuclear arms control treaty, the Kremlin said on Tuesday (Jan 26), a move that preserves the last major pact of its kind between the world's two biggest nuclear powers.

The White House did not immediately confirm the Kremlin's announcement but said President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed the issue by telephone and agreed that their teams work urgently to complete the extension by Feb 5, when the treaty expires.

Signed in 2010, the New Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is a cornerstone of global arms control.

It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia to 1,550 each as well as the number of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.

The Kremlin declared the breakthrough, which was widely anticipated, in a statement announcing that Mr Putin and Mr Biden had spoken for the first time since Mr Biden took office on Jan 20.

Moscow and Washington had failed to agree an extension under former US President Donald Trump, whose administration had wanted to attach conditions to a renewal that Moscow rejected.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin and Mr Biden "expressed satisfaction" that diplomatic notes between the two nations had been exchanged earlier on Tuesday confirming the pact would be extended and that procedures required for the pact to come into force before it expires would be completed in the coming days.

The White House, in its description of the call, did not say that an agreement had been reached or that diplomatic notes had been exchanged, though its tone was upbeat.

"They discussed both countries' willingness to extend New Start for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension by Feb 5," the White House said.

"They also agreed to explore strategic stability discussions on a range of arms control and emerging security issues."

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the plan was for the exchange of notes to occur on Tuesday.

Asked why Washington had not explicitly said an agreement had been reached, a second US official, also on condition of anonymity, said some steps were needed, including approval by the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament.

SPH Brightcove Video
Russia's upper and lower houses of parliament voted on Wednesday to ratify the extension of the New START nuclear arms control treaty, following a phone call between President's Putin and Biden the previous day.

The treaty itself does not require legislative approval for an extension.

The White House said last week Mr Biden would seek a five-year extension.

In its statement, the Kremlin said that Mr Putin had told Mr Biden a normalisation of relations between Moscow and Washington would be in both countries' interest.

It said the two leaders had also discussed the US decision during Mr Trump's administration to exit the Open Skies treaty.

Mr Putin and Mr Biden also talked about Iran's nuclear programme and the conflict in Ukraine.

The White House stressed that it will raise matters where it disagrees with Russia, and said Mr Biden had reaffirmed the United States' "firm support for Ukraine's sovereignty".

Mr Biden had raised "other matters of concern" including the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the cyber hack blamed on Russia that used US tech company SolarWinds Corp as a springboard to penetrate federal government networks, and reports that Russia offered bounties to Taleban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan.

"President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defence of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies," the White House statement said.

Biden further voiced concern to Putin about what the White House called interference in the 2020 presidential election, as well as the massive Solar Winds cyber hack blamed on Moscow and reports that Russians offered bounties to Taleban insurgents for killing US troops in Afghanistan.

Biden's phone call with Stoltenberg came a day after he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The president thanked the (Nato) secretary-general for his steadfast leadership of the alliance, and conveyed his intention to consult and work with allies on the full range of shared security concerns, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Russia," the White House statement said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.