October 19, 2016 9:45 AM
Russian lawmakers back Putin's suspension of plutonium deal
MOSCOW – The lower house of the Russian parliament unanimously approved Wednesday President Vladimir Putin's move to suspend a deal with the United States on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.
Amid growing strains between Moscow and Washington, most recently over the conflict in Syria, Putin has cited the "emerging threat to strategic stability as a result of U.S. unfriendly actions" for his decision. He has also noted a failure by the U.S. to meet its end of the deal.
Under the agreement, which was first signed in 2000 and hailed as a symbol of the rapprochement between the two countries, Russia and the U.S. were each set to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, which is enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads.
Putin said the deal could be restored if the U.S. pulls back forces deployed near Russia's borders and revokes anti-Russian sanctions.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told lawmakers Wednesday that Moscow could take other steps that would hurt the U.S. if Washington ratchets up sanctions.
"If the U.S. moves to expand sanctions, we will take measures that would be quite painful to the U.S. positions in the world," he said without elaboration.
Relations between the two countries have been badly strained over the Ukraine crisis and the situation in Syria, where Russian warplanes have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad. The collapse of a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire in Syria has fueled tensions between Moscow and Washington.