Russia’s government announced on Wednesday it is pulling out of the multi-billion dollar Cooperative Threat Reduction program that since the early 1990s helped Moscow dismantle nuclear weapons and missiles, United States officials said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced that it does not plan to extend the agreement with the U.S. when it expires next year.
The program, funded by legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D., Ga.), became known as the Nunn-Lugar program and was used to help secure Soviet-era nuclear stockpiles and prevent the scientists and technicians in the Russian nuclear program from selling their expertise abroad.
The pullout is the latest in a string of foreign policy failures for President Barack Obama and his administration’s conciliatory "reset" policy toward Russia that sought to improve relations with the increasingly anti-U.S. government in Moscow.
Russia has stepped up opposition to the U.S. in the past four years in spite of administration concessions on missile defenses in Europe and other foreign policy and security issues that were designed to improve relations.
A State Department spokeswoman had no comment and said a statement on the U.S. position is expected Thursday.
Lugar, who is retiring this year, said in a statement that Russian officials told him recently that they wanted to change the Umbrella Agreement instead of simply extending the accord.
"At no time did officials indicate that, at this stage of negotiation, they were intent on ending it, only amending it," Lugar said of his meetings in August with Foreign and Defense Ministry officials.
"Further, during my visit to the Missile Dismantlement and Elimination Facility (MDEF) at Surovatikha, near Nizhy Novgorod, where Nunn-Lugar works to destroy SS-19 and SS-18 missiles, Russian Federal Space Agency officials welcomed prospects for future work," he said.
Several additional missiles could be dismantled this year at the site and all are capable of carrying multiple warheads, he said.
Anti-nuclear work continued through August included securing six nuclear weapons transport trains and destroying 153 metric tons of chemical nerve agent, the statement said.
So far, 7,610 strategic nuclear warheads were deactivated under the Nunn-Lugar program, along with 902 long-range missiles, 498 missile silos, 191 ICBM launchers, 155 strategic bombers, 906 nuclear surface-to-air missiles, and 492 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The cumulative cost of the program has been about $8 billion over the years.
Lugar said that as a result of the program Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus gave up their nuclear weapons.
A U.S. official said Russia was informed by the Pentagon earlier this year that it no longer wanted to continue working on missile elimination in Russia after next year since the Nunn-Lugar activities were a minority of the threat reduction program’s activities.
However, some defense officials in the acquisition office wanted to continue the program.
"The administration is now divided over whether to continue this work, or cave to Russian demands for changes to the agreement," the officials said.
According to the official, the Kremlin strategy is to adopt a hardline anti-U.S. tone as part of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s displeasure with U.S. government efforts against him during recent parliamentary and presidential elections.
Up until the time Pentagon policymakers informed the Russians that the U.S. wanted to end missile dismantlement in Russia, Moscow had not played politics with the Nunn-Lugar program.
However, once the Pentagon policy shop notified the Russians early this year of their preferences for the program, Moscow jumped on the chance to cancel it.
"Not one aspect of Russian-American relations before President Obama has survived his reset," the official said, including START I arms treaty verification, and the recent ending of the U.S. Agency for International Development program in Russia.
There is also an investigation under way of illegal Russian military and intelligence procurement inside the U.S.
That probe was triggered by the case of a Canadian naval officer recruited to spy on the U.S. Navy by the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.
Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle pleaded guilty to espionage on Wednesday in Halifax five years after he walked into a Russian Embassy and offered secrets for cash.