The Cold War Heats Up as Russia Cancels U.S. Inspections of Nuclear Weapons

Since 2010, the United States and the Russian Federation have performed on-site inspections of each other’s nuclear weapons under the New START treaty. These inspections are part of the portfolio of tools we rely on to keep the temperature down between the superpowers and reduce the risk of someone triggering a nuclear war. Last night, Russia announced that they would be suspending access for the United States to inspect their weapons facilities. The suspension was described as “temporary,” but it’s clear that the Kremlin is trying to use these inspections as a way to pressure America into lifting sanctions on them. (Associated Press)

Russia on Monday announced a freeze on U.S. inspections of its nuclear arsenals under a pivotal arms control treaty, claiming that Western sanctions have hampered similar tours of U.S. facilities by Russian monitors.

The move reflects soaring tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s military action in Ukraine and marks the first time the Kremlin halted U.S. inspections under the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

In declaring the freeze on U.S. inspections, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the sanctions on Russian flights imposed by the U.S. and its allies, visa restrictions and other obstacles effectively have made it impossible for Russian military experts to visit U.S. nuclear weapons sites, giving the U.S. “unilateral advantages.”

So the Russian Foreign Ministry is claiming that the only reason this is happening is the American sanctions on Russian air traffic are preventing their inspectors from coming to the United States to perform their duties. But that is clearly nonsense. From the beginning of the sanctions, both countries agreed that exceptions would be made for diplomatic and humanitarian flights. The inspections obviously fall under the blanket of official state visits, so the inspectors would not be blocked from coming to the United States and the State Department has made that clear.

So what is the Kremlin really up to? In addition to describing the freeze as being temporary, the Russians are saying that a suspension of inspections is allowed under the treaty in “exceptional cases.” To be fair, that term is rather vaguely defined, so they may have a point there.

But that’s all diplomatic doublespeak. What’s really going on here should be obvious to the casual observer. Russia wants to have the sanctions we’ve imposed on them lifted and they are trying everything short of military force to make that happen. That’s why Britney Griner is starting a nine-year prison stretch for bringing some cannabis vaping products in her luggage. It’s why they’re having “unscheduled maintenance” outages in their natural gas pipelines. And it’s why the START inspections are being suspended.

Putin has been making thinly veiled threats or at least suggestions that he might deploy nuclear weapons on an almost weekly basis since the early days of the Ukrainian invasion. Actions like this one are only raising international tensions further. It also prompts us to ask the same question that’s been bouncing around since the early weeks of the war. Exactly how mad has Mad Vlad gotten in his elder years? Is he really crazy enough to light off a nuke? I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude here and assume that he still realizes he would be ushering in the end of the world so he wouldn’t do it. But I’m no longer anywhere near 100% confident in that assumption.

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