Russia suspends weapons-grade plutonium deal with US

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended a deal with the US on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium, a move that comes amid escalating tensions over Syria between Moscow and Washington.

Mr Putin’s decree released by the Kremlin cited Washington’s “unfriendly actions” and the United States’ inability to fulfil its obligations under the 2000 deal as reasons for the move.

However, the decree says the weapons-grade plutonium that has fallen under the agreement will be kept away from weapons programs.

Under the agreement, which was expanded in 2006 and 2010, Russia and the US were each to dispose of 34 metric tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads.

When it was signed, the deal was touted as an example of successful US-Russian co-operation on nuclear non-proliferation.

Russia said last year it had started up a plant that produces mixed-oxide commercial nuclear reactor fuel known as Mox from weapons-grade plutonium. Meanwhile, the construction of a similar US plant in South Carolina has been years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

The US administration wants to cancel the Savannah River Site’s Mox project and use an alternative method for disposing of excess plutonium.

Mr Putin pointed to the stalled plant earlier this year to accuse the US of failing to meet its end of the deal. He also argued that the policy change would give Washington “return potential”, or a chance to recycle the material back into the weapons-grade plutonium.

Commenting on Mr Putin’s move, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the US has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging co-operation”. It cited US sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis and the deployment of Nato forces near Russian borders as examples.

“We would like to bring Washington back to understanding that it can’t introduce sanctions against us in areas where it’s quite painless for the Americans, and at the same time continue selective co-operation in areas it sees as advantageous,” it said.

A strain in US-Russian ties escalated in recent weeks following the collapse of a truce in Syria and the Syrian army’s massive onslaught in Aleppo under the cover of Russian war planes.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would be ready to restore the plutonium agreement if the US takes Russian concerns into account.

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