Russia’s parliament rushed Wednesday to approve a move announced the previous day by President Vladimir Putin, all but finalizing the end of Russia’s participation in the New START arms control treaty — the last pact between the world’s biggest nuclear powers regulating their atomic arsenals. Russia’s “suspension” of its participation in the treaty came as it emerged that Moscow had tried but apparently failed to conduct a new test launch of its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile.
A U.S. official told CBS News that Russia carried out a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on February 18, which failed. That launch came just two days before Mr. Biden arrived for an unannounced visit in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Moscow notified Washington of the launch in advance, as required under New START, American officials said, adding that the U.S. did not view the test as “a surprise” or as a threat to the United States.
The failed missile launch is believed to have been of the massive RS-28 Sarmat missile, known as the “Satan II” in the West. The Sarmat, one of Russia’s next-generation nuclear capable missiles, tips the scales at over 200 tons and can carry multiple warheads, with a total estimated payload of 10 tons.
Putin has referred to it as part of Russia’s new “invincible” weapons arsenal, due to a short initial boost phase that would make it difficult for enemy surveillance systems to track.
The Russian leader boasted of a successful Sarmat II test launch in April 2022, several weeks after the invasion of Ukraine began, but made no mention of the latest failed test firing during his Tuesday speech.
“This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia’s security from external threats and make those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country, think twice,” Putin said on Russian TV after the April launch.
Putin has made multiple thinly-veiled nuclear threats against Kyiv and the West during recent anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian speeches, sparking concern that he could be contemplating use of smaller-scale tactical nuclear weapons on the eastern Ukrainian battlefield, if not strategic weapons, such as his nuclear-capable ICBMs.
Putin’s announcement that Russia was halting participation in the New START pact, which limits the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads Russia and the U.S. can deploy, was the final note in his otherwise long but relatively unnewsworthy state of the nation address Tuesday, which took place a few hours before President Biden took the stage in Warsaw to give a speech reiterating Western support for Ukraine.
Putin blamed Washington for the complete “deterioration” of the U.S.-Russia relationship. The Russian leader said, however, that Russia was not completely pulling out of the New START treaty, but he ordered his subordinates to be prepared to resume conducting nuclear weapons tests “if the U.S. does it first.”
Mr. Biden on Wednesday called it a “big mistake” for Russia to suspend its participation in the treaty, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned it as “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible.”