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Obama’s Russian Roadblock

MOSCOW – In a recent speech in Berlin, US President Barack Obama reaffirmed his commitment to nuclear disarmament and proposed steps toward achieving that goal. But Russia has made clear that it does not plan to pursue further reductions to its nuclear arsenal any time soon.

In the speech – delivered nearly 50 years after President John F. Kennedy addressed the then-divided city, highlighting the value of arms control between adversaries – Obama announced that the United States is prepared to cut its nuclear arsenal by up to one-third. He also proposed major reductions in the number of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) deployed in Europe. Moreover, he called upon the international community to renew its efforts to prevent Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons; to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty into force; and to make nuclear energy safer.

Three years ago, Russia seemed to share Obama’s aspiration to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures, with both countries agreeing to limit their deployed weapons to 1,550 as part of the New Strategic Arms-Reduction Treaty. In fact, Russia considers New START to be a “gold standard” treaty, based on core principles – modest and balanced reductions over an extended time period, adequate but not excessive verification measures, and recognition of the connection between strategic offense and defense – that should be applied to all future arms-control treaties.

But Russian officials have since reaffirmed their hardline position, stating in various settings – including at the recent European Security Conference in Moscow – that Russia will not consider further cuts to its nuclear arsenal until the US addresses certain issues affecting Russian interests. In fact, many of the Kremlin’s demands may well be beyond the Obama administration’s capacity to deliver.