SPECIAL REPORT: Russia Nuclear Policy Shift - New START Suspended

SPECIAL REPORT: Russia Nuclear Policy Shift - New START Suspended

by Matt Collins

Russia's Nuclear Policy just saw its most significant shift in decades…

As of February 21, 2023, Vladimir Putin has suspended his country's participation in the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty between Russia and the United States.

At first, this kind of thing sounds terrifying.

Cancellation of nuclear treaties would seem to imply intent to use those weapons.

But as we'll talk about in just a moment, there's a difference between canceling the treaty and temporarily suspending Russia's participation in it.

Putin was careful to ensure the press that Russia was not withdrawing from the treaty (which was renewed in 2021).

But Russia's invasion of Ukraine is ongoing. And the United States continues to support the Ukrainian military alongside NATO. So Putin is opposed to the regular inspections entailed by the treaty itself.

"The US and NATO openly say their goal is to see Russia's strategic defeat," he explained to the press, "And then, as if nothing happened, they say they're prepared to visit our military bases, including our newest."

(Image courtesy of ForeignPolicy)

So the change in Russian nuclear policy is related to Russia's ongoing aggression against Ukraine—and Putin's political need to make it feel like a more significant battle against his western opposition.

Yet, in practical terms, nothing is really changing.

The inspections of nuclear facilities were canceled all the way back in March 2020 due to COVID-19-related concerns. They were meant to start back up, but they've been held hostage by deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States.

Even then, you'll learn only so much from an on-the-ground inspector that you can't figure out from satellite reconnaissance.

It's not like inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are easy to hide.

It all sounds like a lot, but here's the 30-second recap:

  • Russia nuclear policy is shifting, and they're making noise about their last major treaty (but they're not canceling it).

  • They are "canceling" inspections (which haven't happened in the last three years, anyway).

  • This means American military intelligence must get the same information from satellite photos instead.

  • Also, the treaty has already achieved its primary goal of arms reduction (more on that later).

Still… this is more than just another media circus.

Because it's an important indicator of where Russian policy stands—and how that influences the possibility of Putin unleashing his nuclear arsenal.

Let's dive in.


  • 01

    America-Russia Nuclear Treaty = A Good START

  • 02

    Russia’s Real Reasons for Suspending START

  • 03

    Recommended Research for Surviving a Nuclear Assault

  • 04

    4-Piece CBRN PPE Kit for Nuclear Survival

  • 05

    Still at DEFCON 3

America-Russia Nuclear Treaty = A Good START

It was the kind of peace that took decades of patience and insistence to earn.

It began with the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) between America and Russia in Helsinki in 1969. Those first meetings laid the groundwork for the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The next set of talks in 1979 failed to result in a similar treaty—since Russia was in the process of invading Afghanistan at the time.

Then, another decade later, the iron curtain fell. The Berlin Wall had been pulled down. And Russia was scrambling for assurances of its national safety as the government slowly went to pieces.

As a result, we got the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which regulates the number of nuclear weapons Russia and America are allowed to have. Arguably one of the most significant treaties of all time.

Per the treaty, neither country can deploy more than 6,000 warheads and 1,600 ICBMs/bombers. That amount of nuclear weapons is still enough to practically end civilization itself—but only a tiny fraction of the stockpile both sides had amassed by the end of the Cold War.

Agreeing to this kind of treaty meant both sides could pump the brakes. They could decommission old weapons and massively reduce spending while preserving the guarantee of mutually-assured destruction that prevented the other side from firing off their weapons.

Both sides were eager to comply. There are pictures of whole fields of B-52 bombers gleefully chopped into pieces as they were decommissioned by the military, and it speaks to the sheer scale of commitment our country has to this treaty:

(Image courtesy of Justacarguy)

By 2001, just a decade after it was signed, it had removed 80% of all strategic nuclear weapons from existence. In the former Soviet Union, their stock of nuclear weapons fell from 12,000 to 3,500. The Congressional Budget Office estimated a savings of $46 billion in the first five years and a total of $130 billion through 2010.

To call the treaty a success just doesn't do it justice.

So when the treaty was set to end after 2010, authorities on both sides were eager to double down. A new agreement was inked, reducing limits by another two-thirds and extending the terms of the agreement through 2026.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

New START was another outstanding success … and another crucial step back from the brink.

Because new START does not limit the amount of inactive nuclear warheads, each country can keep them on hand. Those can number up into the thousands, but as long as they're not mounted on missiles or set to be dropped from bombers, they don't count.

So the treaty was never really about disarmament. Instead, it was about taking a step back from that aggressive posturing and giving diplomacy a chance to do its job before unleashing Armageddon.

And in a way, that's precisely why Putin has chosen to suspend it.

Russia’s Real Reasons for Suspending START

One year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine's sovereign territory. The stated reason for this invasion was the defense of Russian-speaking individuals in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Putin was immediately denounced by the Western World, with stiff financial sanctions issued against Russia. Putin's disapproval of Western support for Ukraine has been obvious when speaking publicly, especially from NATO and the United States.

"It's they who have started the war," he said in his State of the Nation speech, referring to western NATO countries. "And we are using force to end it."

Putin's stance has been highly consistent on this topic, and he has constantly painted Russia and its neighbors as being attacked by nefarious Western influences. Even now, he says Ukraine has "become a hostage of the Kyiv regime and its Western masters, which have effectively occupied the country."

This rhetoric is likely more for the Russian population than anyone else—working the country up fervently to maintain support for his war.

He can't continue participation with START in that framework. Not in the context of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

If he did, he'd acknowledge diplomacy's success with the West while constantly insisting that it's failed. If Western inspectors were photographed inspecting Russian nuclear facilities at this time, that could be disastrous for the country's morale.

So Putin turns it into a moment of strength.

He proudly denounces the Russia nuclear treaty before the media and once again pleads with the West to come to its sense and just give him everything he desires.

On February 22, just one day after suspending the START treaty, he also canceled a critical Moldova decree. The narrow country bordering Ukraine is home to the contested Transnistria region, which—like Donetsk and Luhansk—is home to a small group of Russian separatists. Moldova is not a NATO member, and it's been believed the country could be another future target or Russia.

(Image courtesy of Euractiv)

In both cases, Putin's decisions seem questionable.

The United States economy is eleven times the size of Russia's. START only limits how many active nuclear weapons we can keep on hand. Without it, America can afford to field far more weapons—potentially enough to break the stalemate. Russia would bankrupt itself trying to keep up (not unlike the Soviet Union).

That's why he was insistent in pointing out he wasn't canceling the agreement—merely suspending it, changing Russia's nuclear policy.

And then Moldova? Russia can't even figure out Ukraine. Invading Moldova would stretch their armed forces and supply lines thinner than they are now. Even if Russia shifted the focus of its attacks over to the smaller target, that would mean turning its back on 40 million angry Ukrainians.

Realistically, these policy decisions seem like posturing as much as anything else. Russia likely won't invade Moldova soon, but it benefits them to keep folks guessing. Russia doesn't want us welding all our old B-52s back together, but it benefits them to talk tough on nuclear weapons.

Where it Falls Apart

Regarding Russian diplomacy, the phrase "escalate to de-escalate" comes up often.

It's like Teddy Roosevelt's old advice to "speak softly and carry a big stick." In this case, the big stick is Russia's sizable nuclear arsenal. And they're quick to escalate their threats if it forces other parties to back away and give them the treaty gains they want (Crimea and its water/offshore oil & gas rights).

Unfortunately, this strategy seems to be falling apart in Ukraine.

Putin and Russian authorities have issued countless and escalating threats to Ukrainian President Zelensky and his defending forces for the last year. But the Ukrainians have held fast and seem to be giving it back as good as they get it. They've been answering headlines and threats with anti-tank missiles.

Russia likely still has the assets and the popular support needed to continue this war for years. But there's little room left for verbal escalation once you've declared war. And backing down would undermine Russia's reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

As a result, Putin has begun to talk about Russia's nuclear weapons more and more frequently in the media.

In late September, he stated that "if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened," he would respond with nuclear weapons. In October, he argued the US set a "precedent" by dropping atomic weapons on Japan in World War II.

And, of course, in February of 2023, he temporarily suspended Russia's participation in the START treaty.

For better or worse, President Biden's answer has been resoundingly clear on the topic. "ARTICLE 5!" Per article 5 of the NATO agreement, an attack on any one NATO member is an attack on all members and will be met with force. The critical omission here is Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO (despite receiving a torrent of new defense gear from Western nations).

All of this might sound like politics, as usual. But it's disturbingly close to nuclear brinksmanship, as well.

Let's be clear; no one knows what's happening behind the "Fog of War" in Ukraine. But based on the balance of information we see, Russia has made limited gains after a full year of open combat. Maybe that's wrong, maybe things will change soon—but it seems like they've hit a brick wall for now.

It's not entirely out of the question that someone could suggest deploying a "small" tactical nuclear weapon to break the logjam in Kyiv if it hasn't already been suggested.

From there, it's still a massive leap to actually follow through with that kind of plan. Maybe leadership figures it would show the enemy "we mean business." Or maybe Ukrainian forces counter-attack too far into Russian territory.

However it begins, it could very well end with a global nuclear death spiral that kills 90 million in hours, leaving billions to starve during nuclear winter:

Extremely unlikely.

But still far too likely. Trust us—we've done the research.

Recommended Research for Surviving a Nuclear Assault

The chances of an all-out nuclear war remain slim. But they're ever-present. So it's hardly the kind of thing you want to ignore.

Because if and when the missiles start flying, you'll need the proper protective gear and knowledge to ensure you survive. Fortunately, you don't have to reinvent the wheel here.

Over the last few years, MIRA Safety's writing team has extensively researched possible nuclear war scenarios. We've spoken with top CBRN authorities, networked with suppliers worldwide, and developed a specialized body of knowledge on the subject. And we've compiled all this data into a series of guides that we provide to the public, free of charge.

So once you're done reading today's Special Report, look back at our archives to learn more about the consequences of a potential nuclear war… and how you can keep your family safe through one.

Here are a few great starting points:

  • Your 2022 World War III CBRN Survival Guide: This guide covers several possible scenarios that could result in escalation and eventually World War III. The list includes everything from secret cyber-attacks to China invading Taiwan and even an all-out nuclear strike on American soil. It covers the likelihood of these different attacks—and the specific CBRN gear that can protect you in case of disaster.

  • Your Complete Guide to Radiation Exposure: This guide focuses explicitly on radiation and its effects on the human body. We look at the various doses that can result in different forms of Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS) and how dosages can vary widely from one person to the next. The research here is crucial for understanding symptoms in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

  • 4 Things You Need to Knowto Survive Nuclear Fallout: Nuclear fallout is an immediate byproduct of any reactor explosion or nuclear detonation. It can travel for hundreds of miles and last for weeks at a time. Understanding how fallout works is critical to understanding how long you'll need to take shelter—and when you'll be able to evacuate ground zero.

  • 4 Key Factors for Surviving a Nuclear War: This comprehensive guide covers everything from the different types of nuclear weapons, their varied blast radius, and the different kinds of radiation emitted in the aftermath.

4-Piece CBRN PPE Kit for Nuclear Survival

In the event of a nuclear attack or a reactor meltdown, there's a ton of different gear you could use to improve your odds of survival. But to keep things simple, I wanted to narrow it down to 4 key components, with a suggestion for each.

  • Full-face Gas Mask: MIRA Safety CM-7M. A nuclear blast unleashes massive amounts of fallout, potentially spreading toxic industrial chemicals, other hazards, and toxic smoke from widespread fires. A full-face gas mask is a must-have component for any nuclear survival kit, and I'm recommending the CM-7M because it's the only adult gas mask we have that comes in three different sizes. That means you'll be able to get a perfect seal even for smaller and larger adults, ensuring reliable protection over the long haul.

  • Gas Mask Filter with P3 and Reactor Rating: NBC-77 SOF. Try and etch that into your brain; “P3, Reactor.” Because those are the two qualifications any gas mask filter will need to protect you from nuclear fallout. P3 is the highest level of particle certification to ensure you won't inhale any fine radioactive dust in the atmosphere. And the Reactor rating indicates special filtration for radioactive iodine, a potentially deadly threat released in high concentrations during a nuclear explosion. Our NBC-77 SOF filter is your best bet for this, with a 20-year shelf life and plenty of other certifications.

  • Potassium Iodide Tablets. That radioactive iodine can accumulate in your thyroid gland and emit deadly radiation. Taking a large dose of safe iodine before exposure can prevent your body from absorbing it. That's what our Potassium Iodide tablets do. The cost for these is minimal, and we recommend stocking up ASAP because they've been known to go out of stock during times of heightened concern.

  • Full-Body Hazmat Protection: MOPP Suit. During a nuclear explosion, tons of debris can be irradiated and ejected into the atmosphere, only to slowly cascade down miles away for days or weeks. Full-body protection is an absolute must, and while the HAZ-SUIT is the best value, I'm recommending the new MIRA Safety MOPP Suit. This one is semi-permeable, so it can breathe and help to keep exertion down during long hours of use. Of course, any hazmat suit must be combined with Kappler chemtape, boots, gloves, and a gas mask to ensure full-body coverage.

Once again, there are dozens of potential considerations in the event of a nuclear attack (see the recommended reading list above). But with these four key components, you're off to a good start.

Still at Defcon 3

As you can see, the whole situation isn't necessarily as alarming as the press might make it out to be.

Putin stands to be at a disadvantage if the START treaty is ever canceled. But he must maintain authoritarian posturing and stay "on message" supporting the ongoing war in Ukraine.

But even if there's an element of theater to all this, a very real war is still happening, and one of the world's most significant nuclear powers is involved. Nothing has quite reached the level of a disaster, but we're still at Defcon 3.

And even if the best possible outcome would be to see this war canceled tomorrow—that's not in the cards. Yet with each passing day, the risk of someone in power making a truly catastrophic decision keeps increasing, and we can only pray nothing comes of that.

Stay safe out there!