|Ballistic missiles on display in Red Square during the Victory Day in Moscow last June. Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP file|
(nbcnews) - The United States and Russia have extended a crucial nuclear arms control treaty until 2026, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or New START is the last nuclear treaty between the two countries and was set to expire Feb. 5. Renewing the agreement was one of the first national security challenges facing President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important,” Blinken said in a statement, noting that Russia has remained in compliance since 2010 when the treaty was signed.
Extending the treaty made “the world safer,” he said, adding that “unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all.”
The move was welcomed by the Russian Embassy in Washington, which said in a statement that the treaty was a “cornerstone of international security.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill extending the treaty Friday after both houses of the Russian parliament voted unanimously to extend it.
New START “ makes it possible to maintain the transparency and predictability of strategic relations between Russia and the United States and to support global strategic stability,” the Kremlin said in a statement at the time.
Signed in 2010 by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, the agreement placed the lowest limits in decades on American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads, and the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.
The Trump administration’s efforts to secure a shorter arms control agreement with Russia that included a freeze on all nuclear warheads and the future inclusion of China ultimately ended in stalemate.
Blinken said the Biden administration will use the five-year extension to pursue an arms control treaty that addresses all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, as well as “arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.”
The five-year extension comes less than 24 hours after the U.S. criticized the nearly three-year prison sentence handed to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, along with other members of the Group of Seven, or G-7 — the informal group of seven large industrialized countries including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Condemning his “politically motivated arrest and detention,” they called for Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release.
Navalny, 44, was arrested at a Moscow airport last month after he returned to his homeland from Germany. He had been receiving treatment in Berlin after he was poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in Siberia last summer.
Navalny and his allies have accused Putin of being behind the attack, a claim that the Kremlin vehemently denies.
Navalny's detention is part of a larger review that Biden has ordered of Russia’s malign activities, including Russian interference in the 2020 election, the alleged bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and the SolarWinds breach — a suspected Russian hacking campaign that targeted American government agencies and corporations.
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