Why Russia was forced to suspend plutonium deal with US

Ambassador's view
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
© Pascal Rossignol
Russia has suspended the plutonium management and disposition agreement (PMDA) with the United States. The agreement was signed at a time when our relations with the US were on an upswing.

There was considerable hope the role of crude force in politics would decline, international tension would lessen and the practice of politically motivated sanctions would become history.

Unfortunately, these hopes were dashed. The Obama administration has done all it could to destroy the atmosphere of trust. In 2012, the United States adopted the Sergei Magnitsky Act, which applied unprecedented sanctions-related pressure on our country under contrived pretexts.

Since 2014, following the reunification of Crimea with Russia, the US administration has taken a series of hostile steps directly aimed at undermining our economy and social stability. The NATO military infrastructure is expanding with an increasing number of US troops in proximity to the Russian border. The scale of these activities call into question our partners’ willingness to comply with obligations under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act on non-deployment of substantial combat forces in the territory of the Alliance’s new member states. The United States and its allies openly and freely discuss transitioning to a policy of containing Russia. They even threaten terrorist attacks in Russian cities.

All these actions taken by Washington are leading to a major shift in strategic stability and are increasingly limiting possibilities for Russian-US cooperation on reducing nuclear arsenals. Our decision is a signal to Washington that it cannot use the language of force, sanctions and ultimatums with Russia while continuing selective cooperation with our country only when it benefits the US. From the perspective of international law, this step is the result of a fundamental change in circumstances compared to when the agreement was signed under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

There is one more aspect to the situation with the plutonium disposition agreement. The US started making unilateral changes to the agreed disposition strategy for its plutonium, citing the need to save time and resources. The strategy chosen by the US does not ensure irreversible elimination, allowing Washington to preserve its ability to reverse things. The US took this step when we had nearly finished building our own rather expensive facilities for plutonium disposition.

The suspension of PMDA doesn’t mean that Russia is withdrawing from its nuclear disarmament obligations; including reducing the amount of nuclear material used in arms programs. Russia’s plutonium designated as no longer required for defense purposes will remain outside the defense industry.

It is important to understand that the decision Russia was forced to make is not designed to aggravate relations with the United States. We have only suspended our cooperation in this area. If Washington adjusts its political course and fully eliminates the circumstances it created that adversely altered the political, military and economic balance in the world, we will be ready to resume implementation of the agreement.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.