Tensions are once again mounting between the United States and Russia as Moscow warned that the increasing Western support for Ukraine could trigger an open conflict between the nuclear powers.
In his speech at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov blamed the US and NATO for their policy that poses “the most acute strategic threat” as it aimed at further fomenting the conflict in and around Ukraine.
“Their growing involvement in an armed confrontation is fraught with a direct military clash of nuclear powers with catastrophic consequences,” Ryabkov said on Thursday.
The diplomat recalled that the US, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France issued a joint statement to avoid war between the nations with nuclear weapons in January 2022. The five countries affirmed "that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.
Ryabkov noted that the policies of the US and its allies went against that declaration, and could bring about a nuclear standoff.
He went further to say that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to suspend its participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) – the last remaining nuclear arms pact with the US – came in response to the US and NATO actions in Ukraine.
During his speech on February 21, when he announced the decision to pull out of the New START treaty – President Putin also made it clear that Moscow will resume nuclear weapons tests if the US does so.
The move added to the tensions between the two nuclear powers, against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Russian authorities have repeatedly criticized Western nations for their military assistance to Ukraine, arguing that the aid is not only fuelling the conflict but also boosting the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and NATO powers.
In addition, Moscow has long accused the West of provoking conflict with the expansion of NATO and the deployment of its weapon systems in proximity to the Russian territories.
The New START treaty limits all deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons by Russia and the US and requires both countries to allow on-site inspections of their nuclear weapons-related facilities by the other. Originally signed by former US President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, the treaty was extended by five years in February 2021 during the first weeks of Joe Biden’s presidency. Currently, it is the only one left regulating the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world.
The mutual inspections of nuclear weapons-related facilities were paused in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and formally suspended by Moscow in August 2022, after Washington attempted to resume the inspections. The Kremlin claimed that the disagreement between Russia and the US over the war in Ukraine had hampered similar tours of US facilities by Russia. Russia’s Foreign Ministry explained that the ban on flights from Russia to the US and allied countries and visa restrictions made it impossible for Russian inspectors to travel to the US.