Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with his North Korean counterpart Choe Son Hui in Moscow on January 16, 2024.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with his North Korean counterpart Choe Son Hui in Moscow on January 16, 2024. MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

Russia rejects US proposal for negotiations on nuclear arms control

Despite several outreach attempts by Washington, Moscow has made no specific proposals on arms control since January 2022, a senior U.S. official said.

Russia has rejected a U.S. offer to discuss nuclear arms control, its foreign minister said today, even as Russia itself offers no alternative proposals, according to a senior White House official. 

Speaking at a news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov linked Russia’s refusal to U.S. foreign policy, which he said was aimed as “undermining Russia’s security and interests.”

The offer was made in September, when U.S. officials proposed new talks on the New START treaty, which regulates the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the United States and Russia and is currently the only nuclear arms-control treaty between the two. 

The talks would have addressed compliance with the treaty, its renewal after it expires in 2026, and managing nuclear risks, National Security Council Senior Director Pranay Vaddi said at an event at think-tank CSIS on Thursday.

Russia sent its refusal privately in December before announcing it publicly today, Vaddi said. 

Russian leaders’ desire to link nuclear negotiations to its other security goals, such as an end to NATO expansion, is a “high bar,” he said. 

Russia has made no specific proposals for new arms-control talks since January 2022—a month before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine—when it proposed draft treaties on nuclear negotiations, he said. 

Vaddi said Russia may believe those January draft treaties are still on the table. 

However, they were offered as part of a dialog where Russia “swore up and down they would not invade Ukraine,” he said, leaving it unclear to the U.S. whether those proposals are still meant seriously. 

In February 2023, Russia unilaterally pulled out of treaty-mandated notifications about the status and movement of nuclear weapons. The United States followed suit in June, but National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan publicly proposed negotiations with Russia on the New START treaty. Russia rejected the U.S. proposal in July. 

Despite Russian officials’ lack of engagement, Vaddi said he believed they would probably come to the negotiating table before the 2026 expiry date. 

With the Russian military bogged down for two years in what Moscow euphemistically still calls a “special military operation,” Russian officials have on numerous occasions suggested they may use nuclear weapons. 

Russian nuclear signaling reached a peak in September 2022, after a lightning Ukrainian push that liberated most of the Kharkiv region. Russia then dialed back its rhetoric amid continued Ukrainian resistance and Western arms flows. 

Russia also made no move to use nuclear weapons when Ukraine liberated the Russian-annexed Kherson region, despite Putin saying that he would use “any means” to defend the region. 

Some in Europe have argued that Russia’s nuclear threats are primarily aimed at coercing Ukraine and its allies, with little chance of them ever being used. 

“We see that more as a propaganda tool of coercion of Ukraine and some countries that may become more hesitant to support Ukraine,” said the Bulgarian Defense Minister Todor Tagarev at an Atlantic Council event last week.