During a meeting at the United Nations on Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it wouldn’t test nukes so long as America didn’t either. “If the U.S. does not test, we will not, but we should be prepared for the worst,” he told reporters.
Ryabkov’s statement comes a week after Russia suspended its participation in New START, the last remaining nuclear treaty between the two countries. During his speech announcing the suspension, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the U.S. for starting the war in Ukraine and alluded to rejoining the treaty once Russia knows the nuclear capabilities of NATO allies such as France and the U.K.
In his speech to the U.N. on Thursday, Ryabkov claimed that the U.S. was using New START as a pretext to probe Russian nuclear sites to help Ukraine. The treaty afforded some transparency on both sides regarding nuclear weapons capabilities, and included regular mutual inspections.
“The situation further degraded after U.S. attempts to ‘probe’ the security of Russian strategic facilities declared under the New START Treaty by assisting the Kyiv regime in conducting armed attacks against them,” he said. “Under these circumstances, we were forced to announce the suspension of the treaty.” Talking to reporters later, Ryabkov said that America was helping Ukraine target Russian infrastructure with drone attacks.
New START was an Obama-era treaty aimed at limiting the amount of strategic nuclear warheads the U.S. and Russia could deploy on each side. It had a troubled history and, in its later years, was poorly enforced. After Trump took office, he denounced the deal in his first phone call with Putin. In 2020, Trump pulled America out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. At that point, New START was the only remaining nuclear treaty left between Russia and the U.S.
Ryabkov told reporters at the U.N. that he was concerned America would one day test a nuclear weapon. The U.S. hasn’t tested a nuclear weapon since 1992 and the U.N. has attempted to pass a comprehensive ban on the practice, but eight states—including the U.S. and China—need to ratify it for it to enter into force. The Trump administration considered the idea of conducting new nuclear tests, but never went forward with the plan.