In his recent landmark address to Russia’s parliament, President Vladimir Putin cited the war in Ukraine and US/NATO involvement in the conflict as the main reason for his decision to “suspend” Moscow’s participation in the 2010 New START Treaty on strategic nuclear weapons. Putin also suggested that Russia should be ready to resume nuclear testing.
Effectively, this announcement, promptly turned into law by the Russian parliament, means a formal end to the long-ailing institutions of strategic arms control that began over 50 years ago. If New START is followed by the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and then the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), strategic deregulation will be complete. Putin’s logic is that the United States cannot be allowed to inspect Russian missile bases while at the same time pursuing a policy of “strategically defeating” Moscow in Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s decision was anything but a bolt from the blue. The proxy war in Ukraine came as the culmination of a decade-and-a-half-long process of steady deterioration of Russian-American and Russian-EU relations. Ever since it became clear – somewhere in the mid-2000s – that Russia would not fit into the US-dominated order, and that Washington, and its, allies would not let Russia sign up on terms that Moscow would find acceptable, the trajectory of the relationship has generally pointed toward confrontation.
In geopolitical terms, the war in Ukraine energized Washington to build a global coalition to oppose Russia. This is often presented as a major achievement of the administration of President Joe Biden. Yet, to look at this from a different perspective, the Russia (and China) policies of the three successive US administrations – Obama’s, Trump’s, and particularly Biden’s – have led to a major split among the great powers that widened from competition to bitter rivalry (with China) and proxy war (with Russia in Ukraine).