Putin Halts Plutonium Pact, Demands End to Sanctions by U.S.

  • President abandons U.S.-Russia deal to dispose of plutonium
  • Putin calls for U.S. to end sanctions, cut Europe presence

Vladimir Putin

Photographer: Ivan Sekretarev/AFP via Getty Images

President Vladimir Putin abandoned a key nuclear disarmament treaty with the U.S. and demanded the removal of sanctions and troop reductions from Russia’s former Cold War enemy to restore the agreement.

Putin withdrew Russia from a plutonium disposal pact Monday in a decree that accused the U.S. of “unfriendly” actions that posed a “threat to strategic stability.” The president said the U.S. had failed to honor the agreement, signed in 2000, which commits both countries to eliminating their stockpiles of plutonium used as the core material in some types of nuclear weapons.

QuickTake Vladimir Putin

“From Russia’s point of view, sanctions represent the same threat to national security as nuclear weapons,” Andrei Frolov, a defense specialist at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said by phone.

In a separate document submitted to Russia’s parliament, Putin indicated his readiness to revive the treaty provided the U.S. reduces its military and troop presence in NATO member states to the level that existed on Sept. 1, 2000. He also called for an end to sanctions against Russia imposed in 2014 over the conflict in Ukraine, and the abolition of restrictions under the so-called Magnitsky Act of 2012, which was aimed at officials accused of involvement in the prison death of whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky.

Nuclear Summit

The rejection of the plutonium agreement adds to tensions between Russia and the U.S. that plunged to the worst since the end of the Cold War after Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Russia and NATO have also accused each other of stoking confrontation as they have built up forces along their borders.

“This is an announcement that we are disappointed by,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a daily briefing in Washington. “The United States has been steadfast since 2011 in implementing our side of the bargain and we’d like to see Russia do the same thing.”

The U.S. remains concerned over Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, and its decision over the plutonium treaty is “in line” with the types of actions that have only left it more isolated on the world stage, he said.

Snubbing Obama

Putin said in April that he rejected President Barack Obama’s invitation to attend a nuclear summit in the U.S. the previous month because Russia’s delegation would have been sidelined at the talks, and because the U.S. hadn’t built the plants required for disposal of its plutonium under the agreement. The White House had proposed earlier to convert the expensive disposal process into a long-term storage program.

Under the draft bill submitted to parliament, the U.S. should compensate Russia for losses incurred during the sanctions period, including those linked to counter-sanctions imposed by Putin on some food imports from the U.S. and its allies including the European Union.

Putin also called for the U.S. to present a “clear plan” for fulfilling its commitments to dispose of plutonium stockpiles.

Halting the plutonium pact is a “forced measure,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday, according to the ministry’s website. Russia viewed the 2000 treaty as an “important step” toward nuclear disarmament, he said.

“This treaty died before being born,” Frolov said. “The agreements didn’t work. Neither Russia nor the U.S. needed it. Putin simply drew the line after many years.”

The Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement specified that each side should eliminate 34 tonnes (37.5 tons) of weapon-grade plutonium. The radioactive material, which formed part of the Fat Man bomb dropped by the U.S. on Japan’s Nagasaki in 1945, was to be converted into fuel for nuclear power stations.

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