House Republicans Look to Block U.S. Nuclear Security Work in Russia

Ukrainian forces at a checkpoint on the edge of Slovyansk, the main town occupied by pro-Russian activists, on Tuesday. House Armed Services Committee Republicans are looking to block U.S. nuclear security work in Russia until the crisis is resolved.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
May 6, 2014, 9:42 a.m.

House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans are look­ing to block the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion from con­tinu­ing nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity work in Rus­sia un­til the Ukraine crisis has been re­solved.

Draft de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill lan­guage re­leased on Monday would bar the use of fisc­al 2015 funds by the En­ergy De­part­ment’s nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity arm “for any con­tract, co­oper­a­tion, or trans­fer of tech­no­logy” between the United States and Rus­sia, pending spe­cif­ic ac­tion by the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

For the re­lease of funds, the En­ergy sec­ret­ary, in con­sulta­tion with sec­ret­ar­ies of State and De­fense, must cer­ti­fy to key con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees that “the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion is re­spect­ing the sov­er­eignty of Ukrain­i­an ter­rit­ory,” ac­cord­ing to the Re­pub­lic­an draft bill.

Anne Har­ring­ton, the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s deputy for de­fense nuc­le­ar non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire last month that U.S. nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity work in Rus­sia had re­sumed, des­pite dis­agree­ments over Mo­scow’s an­nex­a­tion of the Crimea re­gion in Ukraine.

The work — which in­cludes up­grad­ing the phys­ic­al se­cur­ity of build­ings where sens­it­ive nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als are stored — had pre­vi­ously been sus­pen­ded while the United States and Rus­sia hashed out the de­tails of how to im­ple­ment a new agree­ment the two na­tions signed last year.

Dur­ing the April 8 in­ter­view, Har­ring­ton said the two sides were able to fi­nal­ize out­stand­ing de­tails and re­sume work — des­pite ten­sion over the Ukraine situ­ation.

Monday’s draft bill lan­guage sug­gests that since then, “in re­sponse to on­go­ing Rus­si­an ag­gres­sion to­ward Ukraine, the sec­ret­ary of En­ergy has sus­pen­ded nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity co­oper­a­tion” with Rus­sia. It says this ap­par­ent sus­pen­sion should re­main in place “so long as Rus­sia con­tin­ues its ag­gres­sion to­ward Ukraine.”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, however, are sug­gest­ing that no such sus­pen­sion has taken place. NNSA spokes­man Der­rick Robin­son on Monday poin­ted to an April 10 state­ment from the U.S. Em­bassy in Mo­scow that says while the ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­duct­ing a re­view of all “Rus­si­an-re­lated activ­it­ies” in light of the Ukraine situ­ation, it has “not an­nounced a de­cision to sus­pend nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity co­oper­a­tion with Rus­sia.”

The April 10 state­ment, which says “crit­ic­al bi­lat­er­al nuc­le­ar non­pro­lif­er­a­tion activ­it­ies are con­tinu­ing in a num­ber of key areas,” still ap­plies, ac­cord­ing to Robin­son.

A House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee spokes­man did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment by press time.

Dur­ing an April 8 hear­ing, some com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans sug­ges­ted the United States should not provide any aid to Rus­sia, and that do­ing so was tan­tamount to sub­sid­iz­ing mod­ern­iz­a­tion of Mo­scow’s nuc­le­ar arms.

Then-Act­ing NNSA Ad­min­is­trat­or Bruce Held said at the hear­ing that the United States spends money on nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity pro­jects in Rus­sia not be­cause they are good for Mo­scow, but be­cause they are im­port­ant for U.S. na­tion­al se­cur­ity. NNSA non­pro­lif­er­a­tion pro­grams are meant to pre­vent ter­ror­ists from ob­tain­ing dan­ger­ous ma­ter­i­als.

The new draft bill word­ing would also block nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity work un­til Rus­sia com­plies with cer­tain treat­ies, in­clud­ing the In­ter­me­di­ate-range Nuc­le­ar Forces Treaty. Some con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans ac­cuse Mo­scow of vi­ol­at­ing the ac­cord, un­der which the United States and Rus­sia have agreed not to de­vel­op, test or field mis­siles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

The House Armed Ser­vice Com­mit­tee is ex­pec­ted to vote on the draft lan­guage on Wed­nes­day.

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