MOSCOW: A deal only appears possible now because of the sudden “U-turn” from Putin, notes Elena Chernenko, who covers arms control for Kommersant.
The backstory: Russia has long called for an unconditional extension of New START and insisted that any further negotiations also put Russian priorities like missile defense on the table.
Now the position has been changed — and not by negotiators in the Foreign Ministry, she reports. “This decision was taken in the Kremlin.”
It’s the second significant concession from Moscow, after the agreement that New START be extended for only one year, rather than five.
What to watch: “Experts here in Russia were clearly surprised by this change of the position, because they see several possible traps for Russia in such a possible freeze,” Chernenko said on the ELN call.
Any alleged violations of the freeze could be treated as grounds for U.S. sanctions, she says.
Second, a potential Biden administration could insist that the freeze be the starting point for further negotiations, rather than a clean extension of New START.
Russia is “hedging its bets,” says Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.
This deal would remove the risk of New START’s imminent expiration and allow arms control talks with a possible Biden administration to start “from the very beginning,” rather than with a scramble to extend the deal, she says.
The latest: Putin may also be hedging on his own commitments.
According to Bloomberg, he said today at the Valdai Forum in Moscow that New START should be extended “for a year, without preconditions” to allow for further negotiations.
That sounds a lot like the position the U.S. already rejected.
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