Russia’s parliament will vote next week on withdrawing Moscow’s ratification of the global treaty that bans nuclear tests, lawmakers said on Thursday.
At a time of acute tension with the West over Russia’s war in Ukraine, the move could provide Moscow with legal cover to conduct a test involving a nuclear explosion for the first time since 1990, even though it says it has no such intention.
Parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, said it would hold a first reading on the bill next Tuesday. Leonid Slutsky, head of the Duma’s international affairs committee, said he expected it to complete its passage two days later.
All 450 members of the Duma would sponsor the motion, Slutsky said, a sign that its unanimous approval is guaranteed. He said Russia would then notify the United Nations Secretary-General of the move.
Russia ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 2000; the United States has signed but never ratified it. The Duma is acting on a cue from President Vladimir Putin, who said last week that the point of de-ratifying would be to “mirror” the U.S. position.
Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said: “For 23 years we have been waiting for Washington to ratify the treaty. What is this? Double standards, meanness and an irresponsible attitude. There is no other name for it.
“In this situation, we must be guided exclusively by the interests of the citizens of our country, our state.”
Russia has placed repeated emphasis on the role of nuclear weapons in its military posture, at a time when its conventional forces have struggled in Ukraine.
Its shift on the CTBT follows its suspension earlier this year of the New START treaty that limits the number of Russian and U.S. nuclear warheads, another key pillar of nuclear arms control in the 21st century.
While nudging the Duma to implement the CTBT move, Putin said last week he was not ready to say whether Russia should actually resume tests involving nuclear explosions.
A test could dramatically escalate tensions with the West, already at their highest levels for 60 years because of the war in Ukraine, and prompt the United States, China and others to resume their own tests for the first time this century, security analysts say.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States on Tuesday of carrying out preparations at its nuclear test site in Nevada, but said Russia would not resume testing unless Washington did.
The State Department rejected his allegation as “a disturbing effort by Moscow to heighten nuclear risks and raise tensions in the context of its illegal war in Ukraine”.