Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, says his country is ready to include two of its strategic weapons – the heavy Sarmat missile and the Avangard hypersonic missile – in a possible renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the United States.
Russia’s top diplomat made the comment in an interview with the country’s state television on Sunday, adding that Moscow was also ready – should the agreement be extended – to demonstrate the Sarmat missile to Washington.
The START accord is the last major nuclear arms control treaty between the two sides that puts a limit on the development and deployment of strategic nuclear warheads of both countries.
Back in July 1991, START which was later renamed START I, was signed by then US President, George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last President of the Soviet Union, barring both countries from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and bombers.
In January 1993, President Bush and Boris Yeltsin, the former Russian President, signed START II, but it collapsed and was never put into effect.
The START I treaty expired in late 2009 and its replacement, called the New START or START III, was signed in April 2010 by former US President, Barack Obama and then Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, under which both sides agreed to halve the number of strategic nuclear missiles and restrict the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550.
On Thursday, Russian President, Vladimir Putin said Washington had not yet reacted to any Russian proposals for the extension of the treaty. The New START can be extended for another five years, beyond its expiry date in February 2021, by mutual agreement.
The Russian leader at the time warned that nothing could hold back yet another arms race and global security would be threatened if the bilateral treaty with the US was not renewed.
The RS-28 Sarmat, a liquid-fueled, MIRV-equipped, heavy thermonuclear ICBM, is touted to have virtually no range limit. The missile is planned to replace the Soviet-era Voevoda and is able to carry massive payloads across the North Pole or the South Pole to anywhere on the planet.
The missile was featured for the first time in Putin’s annual address to the Federal Assembly in early March 2018, where he showcased the missile system as the centerpiece of Russia’s renewed and super advanced weapons.
The Avangard, a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), can be carried as a MIRV payload by a number of ICBMs, including the Sarmat. It can deliver both nuclear and conventional payloads.
When first unveiling the Avangard in his state-of-the-nation address in March 2018, Putin said it could reach speeds 20 times faster than the speed of sound when flying in the atmosphere.
US president sends letter to Putin on INF
Elsewhere in his comments on Sunday, the Russian Foreign Minister said that American President, Donald Trump, had just sent a brief letter to Putin on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
“US President Donald Trump sent a short letter in which he said that they are ready to continue looking for ways to overcome the problems in our relations,” Lavrov said, adding that the letter had been sent in response to Putin’s offer to introduce a moratorium on the development of missiles banned by the INF.
Back in February, the White House announced plans to pull out of the 1987 treaty with the Kremlin. The INF had banned all land-based missiles with the range up to 5,500 kilometers. It officially left six months later.
The US’s withdrawal from the milestone agreement came after it accused Russia of secretly violating it. Russia, which has repeatedly rejected these allegations, stopped implementing the INF treaty after the US left it.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced that it had tested a medium-range ballistic missile, the second test of a ground-launched, nuclear-capable offensive missile in four months, which would have been banned under the INF that Washington unilaterally exited in August.
Some experts believe the collapse of the INF could undermine other arms control agreements and lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The US missile tests are part of a new momentum Trump’s administration has given to the US policy of “strategic rivalry” with China and Russia, two countries seen increasingly as a threat by Washington.
Back in September, US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, said abandoning the INF treaty would free up the US military to deal with Russia and China.