Russia on Friday indicated it was moving swiftly towards revoking its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty after President Vladimir Putin held out the possibility of resuming nuclear testing.
Putin on Thursday said Russia’s nuclear doctrine – which sets out the conditions under which he would press the nuclear button – did not need updating but that he was not yet ready to say whether or not Russia needed to resume nuclear tests.
The Kremlin chief said that Russia could look at revoking ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as the United States had signed it but not ratified.
Just hours after Putin’s comments, Russia’s top lawmaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, said the State Duma lower house of parliament would swiftly consider if there was a need to revoke Russia’s ratification of the treaty.
“At the next meeting of the State Duma Council, we will definitely discuss the issue of revoking the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” Volodin said.
Putin’s comments, followed by Volodin’s, indicate that Russia is seriously considering revoking ratification of the treaty, which bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere.
A resumption of nuclear tests by Russia, the United States or China could indicate the start of a new nuclear arms race between the big powers who stopped nuclear testing in the years following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
For some scientists and campaigners, the splurge of nuclear bomb testing during the Cold War indicated the folly of nuclear brinkmanship which could ultimately destroy humanity and contaminate the planet for hundreds of thousands of years.
But the Ukraine war has raised tensions between Moscow and Washington to the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis just as China seeks to bolster its nuclear arsenal to accord with its newly-found status as an emerging superpower.
Putin controls around 5,889 nuclear warheads as of 2023, compared with 5,244 controlled by US President Joe Biden, according to the Federation of American Scientists. China has a total of 410 warheads, France 290 and Britain 225.
In the five decades between 1945 and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, more than 2,000 nuclear tests were carried out, 1,032 of them by the United States and 715 of them by the Soviet Union, according to the United Nations.
The Soviet Union last tested in 1990. The United States last tested in 1992.
But signs have emerged that testing could resume.
In 2020, The Washington Post reported that the administration of then US President Donald Trump had discussed whether or not to conduct a nuclear test.
Putin said on Thursday that Russia had successfully tested a nuclear-powered and nuclear-capable cruise missile – the Burevestnik – whose capabilities he has called unmatched.
China is building hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missile silos, according to the 2023 Annual Threat Assessment by the US intelligence community.
CNN reported earlier this month that satellite images showed increasing activity at nuclear test sites in Russia, China and the United States.
According to the United States, China is reorienting its nuclear posture for strategic rivalry with the United States, and is not interested in any arms control agreements which lock in US or Russian nuclear dominance.
“China and Russia are seeking to ensure strategic stability with the United States through the growth and development of a range of weapons capabilities, including non-traditional weapons intended to defeat or evade US missile defences,” according to the US threat assessment.
“Consequently, these new technologies probably will challenge the way states think about arms control, and we expect it will be difficult to achieve agreement on new weapon definitions or verification measures, particularly at the multilateral level.”