There is still enough time to extend the Russian-US Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said Wednesday at a videoconference organized by Washington’s Brookings Institution.
He was asked whether there is any time left for the countries to extend the treaty. "We have time. We can get it [extension] very quickly. If anybody can call me now from State Department or White House, I am ready to come. I am ready to continue such negotiations," he noted. The diplomat also highlighted that Russia has "an excellent team in Moscow" tasked with arms control issues.
The envoy added that Russia is still in talks with the current US administration to secure a possible extension of the treaty. "Yes, we are in close contact with [US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control] Marshall Billingslea who is a key negotiator from the American side," Antonov added. According to him, the parties are exchanging proposals on the New START extension, TASS reports.
"We are still in dialogue, we hope that we will continue it for the foreseeable future," the Russian ambassador concluded.
Moscow and Washington signed the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms in 2010. Under its terms, either country must reduce its strategic offensive arms in such a way that at the end of the seventh year following its entry into force and later on their overall amounts should not exceed 700 units of deployed inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers, 1,550 warheads and 800 operational and non-operational missile launchers and strategic bombers.
The treaty was concluded for a period of ten years (until February 5, 2021). It can be replaced by a follow-up agreement before the deadline expires, or prolonged for no more than five years (until 2026) by mutual consent.
On October 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed extending New START by at least a year without any additional conditions. According to him, this will provide time to conduct substantial talks. In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russia is ready to freeze its nuclear arsenals with the US in case the treaty is extended, and no additional demands are put forward by Washington.
2+2 talks with US
Antonov has voiced hope that the Russian-American dialogue between heads of diplomatic and defense agencies can be resumed.
"We [Russia and the US] need to restore channels of communication. I am dreaming to see the minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation and the minister of defense of the Russian Federation to come to Washington in order to restore the 2+2 channel. It is an excellent channel to exchange views on various issues. Everybody can raise any issue of interest, but at the same time we can restart it and we can find a wider base for potential cooperation between the United States and Russia," Antonov told a videoconference organized by Washington’s Brookings Institution.
Moscow was hoping to hold discussions with Washington on missile defense, hypersonic weapons and other emerging systems after extending the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), however, the US did not support the Russian approach, trying to essentially prefigure the result of such potential talks, Antonov said.
Open Skies Treaty
The decision of Western countries to not follow the US lead in exiting the Treaty on Open Skies demonstrated that problems of implementing this agreement can be resolved, Antonov said.
"I am a little bit surprised why nobody from Western countries decided to withdraw from the treaty, why they decided not to follow suit of the United States. It means that they are sure that all problems can be possible solved by the special commission that we have in Vienna," the Russian diplomat assured when commenting on the recent Open Skies Treaty developments.
At the same time, Antonov underlined that Moscow is concerned by potential scenarios when Western countries, who remain in the treaty, feed data to Washington about Russia.
The US quit the treaty on November 22.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Treaty on Open Skies, developed with Moscow’s active cooperation, is a major trust and security building measure. Together with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the Vienna Document 1999, the treaty effectively completed the creation of the trust building and transparency regime in the conventional forces field in the European-Atlantic space.
From a practical standpoint, the treaty allows the member states to conduct flights over any territory of each other to survey the military activity in compliance with the established quota. The treaty outlines flight procedures, treaty compliance verification mechanism, requirements for surveillance planes and restriction on composition and parameters of the surveillance hardware.
Washington was accusing Russia of selective compliance with the treaty and violation of a number of the treaty clauses for several years. Russia has its own complaints to Washington regarding the treaty implementation. In 2017, Washington announced introduction of certain restrictions against Russian surveillance flight over the US territory, causing Russia to respond in a mirror-like fashion.
Russia wants to cooperate in the Arctic and opposes the efforts to turn this region into a zone of international cooperation, Antonov said.
"The Arctic is a zone of friendship and cooperation between the United States and Russia. I can say right away that we are against any competition in high latitudes," he noted. "We support the principle of pragmatism in cooperation in the Arctic, including in the bilateral relations. We know the need for joint active work to address the problems of the Arctic."
The Russian envoy underlined that there is a "huge agenda for a potential cooperation between the United States and Russia." According to him, Moscow is ready for cooperation and is waiting for "any reaction" from Washington on this issue.
US election winner
Russia will follow the state protocol and will congratulate the US presidential election winner after all the necessary guidelines and procedures are followed and official results are announced, Antonov said.
He was asked when Russian President Vladimir Putin will offer congratulations to US Democratic nominee Joe Biden for his presumptive victory. "Firstly, I am not working in the Kremlin, I am not in close contact with Mr. Putin. But, of course, I am aware of the position of the Russian Federation on this issue. We consider that it’s American people who decide themselves who will run this country. We will recognize any choice that your people make," Antonov responded.
"As I understand, we need to wait [for the end] of some legal procedures in your country, when all official results will be announced. It goes without saying that after this moment or this event, everything will be done in accordance with the state protocol," the envoy concluded.
Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that the Kremlin deems it wrong to consider the decision to wait for official results of the election and resolution of the legal challenges put forward by incumbent President Donald Trump as Putin’s rejection of the Biden victory. He also added that the messages of congratulations that had already been sent by other world leaders to Biden are not influencing Putin’s plans.
The United States held the presidential elections on November 3. Though the vote count is still underway, major US media outlets project that the Democratic contender has presumptively won the presidential election. Both Fox News and Associated Press have put Biden over the top, beyond the needed 270 vote threshold.
The US General Services Administration (GSA) practically recognized Biden’s victory and notified him in writing about the readiness to provide budget funds necessary to launch transition of power. The inauguration ceremony will take place on January 20. Nevertheless, Trump is challenging the current outcome, claiming irregularities in the ballot processing in key swing states, and has filed lawsuits to fight his case in court. Latest reports show that Biden secured more than 80 million votes, while Trump racked up 74 million ballots.