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No more cooperation

October 6, 2016

Russia suspends nuclear agreement, ends uranium research pact with United States



MOSCOW – Russia has further curtailed its cooperation with the United States on nuclear energy by suspending a research agreement and terminating another on uranium conversion, two days after the Kremlin shelved a plutonium pact with Washington.

The Russian government said Wednesday that as a countermeasure to the U.S. sanctions imposed on it over events in Ukraine, it was putting aside a nuclear and energy-related research pact with the United States.

It also announced the termination, for the same reasons, of an agreement between its nuclear corporation, Rosatom, and the U.S. Department of Energy on feasibility studies into conversion of Russian research reactors to low-enriched uranium.

On Monday, President Vladimir Putin suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium, a signal that he is willing to use nuclear disarmament as a new bargaining chip in disputes with the United States over Ukraine and Syria.

“The regular renewal of sanctions against Russia, which include the suspension of Russian-American cooperation in the field of nuclear energy demands the adoption of countermeasures against the U.S. side,” the Russian government said on its website.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the United States had not received an official notification from Russia although he had seen media reports of the suspension of the research agreement.

“If they’re accurate, we would regret the Russian decision to unilaterally suspend cooperation on what we believe is a very important issue that’s in the interest of both of our countries,” spokesman Mark Toner said at a daily news briefing.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the decisions were taken in response to “unfriendly acts” by Washington. They came two days after Washington said it was suspending talks with Russia on trying to end the violence in Syria.

The agreement on co-operation in nuclear and energy-related scientific research, signed in 2013, provided the legal framework necessary to expand work between U.S. and Russian nuclear research laboratories and institutes in nuclear technology and nonproliferation, among others.

The uranium agreement, signed in 2010, provided for feasibility studies into the conversion of six Russian research reactors from dangerous highly enriched uranium to more secure low-enriched uranium.

“We can no longer trust Washington in such a sensitive area as the modernization and security of Russian nuclear facilities,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

It said that should Russia decide on the feasibility of the conversion of any research reactors to low-enriched uranium, it will carry out the work itself. But it warned the conversion may not be “an end in itself.”

“In some cases, including in the production of medical isotopes, highly enriched uranium is the most effective and renouncing it would be technically and economically inexpedient,” the ministry said.

The West imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014, followed by a pro-Russian insurrection in the east of the country. The breakdown of a cease-fire in Syria, where Russia backs government forces and the West supports rebel groups, has added to tensions.

October 4, 2016

Putin suspends 2010 agreement to clean up weapons-grade plutonium with U.S.


Reuters, AFP-JIJI

MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin on Monday suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium, signaling he is willing to use nuclear disarmament as a new bargaining chip in disputes with the United States over Ukraine and Syria.

Starting in the last years of the Cold War, Russia and the United States signed a series of accords to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals, agreements that have so far survived intact despite a souring of U.S.-Russian relations under Putin.

But on Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending an agreement, concluded in 2000, which bound the two sides to dispose of surplus plutonium originally intended for use in nuclear weapons.

The Kremlin said it was taking that action in response to unfriendly acts by Washington. It made the announcement shortly before Washington said it was suspending talks with Russia on trying to end the violence in Syria.

The plutonium accord is not the cornerstone of post-Cold War U.S.-Russia disarmament, and the practical implications from the suspension will be limited. But the suspension, and the linkage to disagreements on other issues, carries powerful symbolism.

“Putin’s decree could signal that other nuclear disarmament cooperation deals between the United States and Russia are at risk of being undermined,” Stratfor, a U.S.-based consultancy, said in a commentary.

“The decision is likely an attempt to convey to Washington the price of cutting off dialogue on Syria and other issues.”

Independent military expert Alexander Golts said that it is not the first agreement to be suspended in the nonproliferation sphere.

“It’s a symbolic gesture that demonstrates that the sides no longer cooperate in this sphere,” Golts added.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Monday that bilateral contacts with Moscow over Syria are being suspended. Kirby said Russia had failed to live up to its commitments under a cease-fire agreement.

Western diplomats say an end to the Syria talks leaves Moscow free to pursue its military operation in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but without a way to disentangle itself from a conflict which shows no sign of ending.

Russia and the United States are also at loggerheads over Ukraine. Washington, along with Europe, imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and backed pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Putin submitted a draft law to parliament setting out under what conditions work under the plutonium accord could be resumed. Those conditions were a laundry list of Russian grievances toward the United States.

They included Washington lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine, paying compensation to Moscow for the sanctions, and reducing the U.S. military presence in NATO member state in Eastern Europe to the levels they were 16 years ago.

Any of those steps will involve a complete U-turn in long-standing U.S. policy.

“The Obama administration has done everything in its power to destroy the atmosphere of trust which could have encouraged cooperation,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the treaty’s suspension.

“The step Russia has been forced to take is not intended to worsen relations with the United States. We want Washington to understand that you cannot, with one hand, introduce sanctions against us where it can be done fairly painlessly for the Americans, and with the other hand continue selective cooperation in areas where it suits them.”

The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium by burning it in nuclear reactors.

Clinton said at the time that there was enough of the material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides back then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Russian officials alleged on Monday that Washington had failed to honor its side of the agreement. The Kremlin decree stated that, despite the suspension, Russia’s surplus weapons-grade plutonium would not be put to military use.

The U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement obliged Moscow and Washington to dispose of no less than 34 tons of weapon-grade plutonium by irradiating it or transforming it into so-called MOX (mixed oxide) fuel.

The building of a MOX fuel reprocessing plant was opposed in the United States in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster over safety fears and the high cost of the project, which is already billions of dollars over budget.

U.S. energy officials have pushed for using another method of disposal, calling for plutonium to be mixed with other substances and stored underground, but Moscow argues that any method to dilute plutonium is reversible.

See also:

October 3, 2016

Russia suspends weapons-grade plutonium deal with US


Russia has suspended an agreement with the US on the disposal of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, the latest sign of worsening bilateral relations.

In a decree, President Vladimir Putin accused the US of creating "a threat to strategic stability, as a result of unfriendly actions" towards Russia.

Moscow also set pre-conditions for the US for the deal to be resumed.

Under the 2000 deal, each side is supposed to get rid of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning it in reactors.

It is part of cuts to nuclear forces.

The US state department said the combined 68 tonnes of plutonium was "enough material for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons". Both sides had reconfirmed the deal in 2010.

In a separate development, the US said it was suspending talks with Russia over the Syrian crisis.

Washington said Moscow had not lived up to the terms of last month's ceasefire agreement, which has since collapsed.

Russia said it regretted the decision, accusing the US of trying to shift the blame on to Russia over the failed deal.

In Monday's decree (in Russian), President Putin said Russia had to take "urgent measures to defend the security of the Russian Federation".

In April, Mr Putin said the US was failing to fulfil its obligations to destroy plutonium. Instead, he argued, the US reprocessing method allowed plutonium to be extracted and used again in nuclear weapons.

Both sides had agreed to build special facilities for disposing of the surplus plutonium.

"We fulfilled our duties, we built that enterprise. But our American partners did not," Mr Putin said.

The US rejected that claim, insisting that its disposal method did not violate the agreement.

Also on Monday, President Putin submitted a bill (in Russian) to parliament setting a series of pre-conditions for the US for the agreement to be resumed, including:

  • reduction of US military infrastructure and troops in countries that joined Nato after 1 September 2000
  • lifting of all US sanctions against Russia and compensation for the damage they have caused

The US - as well as the European Union - imposed a series of sanctions against Russia following the annexation by Moscow of Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula in 2014, and Russia's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Tensions between Washington and Moscow rose further last month over Russia's bombing campaign in Syria, which some have described as a "war crime".

Russian planes are helping Syrian government forces to hit rebel groups, some of which are supported by the US and its Gulf Arab allies.

Russia is currently modernising its nuclear arsenal.

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