Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium.
That signals Putin’s willingness to use nuclear disarmament as a new bargaining chip in disputes with the United States over Ukraine and Syria, Reuters reports.
Russia and the US signed a series of accords in the last years of the Cold War to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals, agreements that have so far survived intact despite souring of US-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 the 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 US-Russia disarmament and the practical implications from the suspension will be limited.
But the suspension and the linkage to disagreements on other issues carry a 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 US-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.”
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement on Monday that bilateral contacts with Moscow over Syria were being suspended.
Kirby said Russia had failed to live up to its commitments under a ceasefire agreement.
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