Amid Ukraine Discord, U.S. Resumes Nuclear-Security Work in Russia

Protesters on Wednesday hold "an angry Matryoshka" doll with a weapon and placard reading "Boycott Russia!" during an action in central Kiev, calling for a boycott of Russian goods. Despite disagreements over Ukraine, the United States is resuming nuclear-security work in Russia, a U.S. official says.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
April 9, 2014, 10:42 a.m.

The United States is re­sum­ing nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity work in Rus­sia des­pite on­go­ing dis­agree­ments over Mo­scow’s an­nex­a­tion of the Crimea re­gion of Ukraine, a Wash­ing­ton of­fi­cial says.

Anne Har­ring­ton, deputy ad­min­is­trat­or for de­fense nuc­le­ar non­pro­lif­er­a­tion at the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire on Tues­day that pre­vi­ously stalled ne­go­ti­ations over how to im­ple­ment an agree­ment that Wash­ing­ton signed with Mo­scow last year have now con­cluded and work has re­sumed.

“They’re done — we’re work­ing,” Har­ring­ton told GSN. She said the im­ple­ment­ing lan­guage for last year’s agree­ment had been hammered out in re­cent weeks.

The 2013 pact was meant to re­place the now-ex­pired Co­oper­at­ive Threat Re­duc­tion um­brella agree­ment that had been in place between the two na­tions since the end of the Cold War.

Har­ring­ton had earli­er told GSN last month that work had stalled with the im­ple­ment­a­tion lan­guage not yet fi­nal­ized — prompt­ing her agency to re­quest less fund­ing for fisc­al 2015 non­pro­lif­er­a­tion activ­it­ies. At the time, she said the Ukraine crisis could cre­ate fur­ther delays.

On Tues­day, Har­ring­ton did not say ex­actly what type of work the United States had re­sumed in Rus­sia. Pre­vi­ously, she said up­grades to the phys­ic­al se­cur­ity of build­ings where sens­it­ive nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­als are stored had been sus­pen­ded. At the time, she said “any­where between 40 and 70 per­cent of the up­grades at all of the build­ings were com­pleted.”

Har­ring­ton this week also did not spe­cify wheth­er her agency would now look to re­vise its fisc­al 2015 budget re­quest, giv­en that work in Rus­sia had now re­sumed. NNSA of­fi­cials did not re­spond to a re­quest for more in­form­a­tion by press time.

Har­vard Uni­versity’s Mat­thew Bunn, a former aide to Pres­id­ent Clin­ton, warned last month that an end to the U.S. work in Rus­sia — which is aimed at pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ists from ob­tain­ing weapons-us­able nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al — could in­tro­duce high­er risks.

“There’s a huge prob­lem of sus­tain­ab­il­ity, there are prob­lems of se­cur­ity cul­ture, there’s still weak­ness in in­sider pro­tec­tion and we still need to be work­ing to­geth­er,” Bunn said.

Some House Re­pub­lic­ans are sug­gest­ing the United States should not provide any aid to Rus­sia, however, par­tic­u­larly amid the Ukraine crisis and con­cerns that Mo­scow may be run­ning afoul of the In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nuc­le­ar Forces Treaty, or “INF” agree­ment.

“Your agency is still re­quest­ing $100 mil­lion for non­pro­lif­er­a­tion pro­grams in Rus­sia and, from my per­spect­ive, giv­ing Mo­scow non­pro­lif­er­a­tion money, by do­ing that, we in­ad­vert­ently sub­sid­ize Rus­sia’s nuc­le­ar force mod­ern­iz­a­tion,” Rep­res­ent­at­ive Jim Briden­stine (R-Okla.), told Act­ing NNSA Ad­min­is­trat­or Bruce Held dur­ing a hear­ing Tues­day. “Doesn’t this $100 mil­lion that you’re still re­quest­ing dir­ectly con­tra­dict and un­der­mine the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stated policy of sus­pend­ing mil­it­ary-to-mil­it­ary en­gage­ment with Rus­sia?”

Held will soon be re­placed by re­tired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, who the Sen­ate on Tues­day con­firmed as the nuc­le­ar agency’s new lead­er.

The act­ing ad­min­is­trat­or said both dur­ing and after 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.

His agency is “very care­ful in re­view­ing all of these pro­grams to en­sure that any money we are spend­ing over there is driv­en by U.S. na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terests, not Rus­si­an,” Held told law­makers.

In ad­di­tion, Har­ring­ton — who at­ten­ded but did not testi­fy dur­ing the hear­ing of the House Armed Ser­vices Sub­com­mit­tee on Stra­tegic Forces — noted that the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a semi­autonom­ous di­vi­sion of the En­ergy De­part­ment, does not deal with the Rus­si­an mil­it­ary. Rather, the U.S. agency co­ordin­ates with Rus­si­an cus­toms and bor­der se­cur­ity of­fi­cials and Ros­atom, the Rus­si­an nuc­le­ar en­ergy agency.

Rep­res­ent­at­ive Mi­chael Turn­er (R-Ohio) was ex­pec­ted to in­tro­duce a bill on Wed­nes­day that would pro­hib­it “the con­tact, co­oper­a­tion or trans­fer of tech­no­logy” between the U.S. nuc­le­ar agency and Rus­sia, “un­til the sec­ret­ary of En­ergy cer­ti­fies that the Rus­si­an mil­it­ary is no longer il­leg­ally oc­cupy­ing Crimea, no longer vi­ol­at­ing the INF treaty and in com­pli­ance with the [Con­ven­tion­al Armed Forces in Europe] treaty,” ac­cord­ing to a Tues­day press re­lease.

On March 24, Turn­er and Briden­stine ar­gued in a let­ter to the nuc­le­ar agency that it would spe­cific­ally be a “mis­take” to con­tin­ue provid­ing Rus­sia with what they de­scribed as “mil­it­ary-grade” laser tech­no­logy. The tech­no­logy was to have been used by Rus­si­an forces to prac­tice re­sponses to pos­sible at­tacks against nuc­le­ar-ma­ter­i­al trans­ports or sites hous­ing these sens­it­ive items.

Held on Tues­day re­it­er­ated that the ad­min­is­tra­tion agreed with the GOP law­makers on this spe­cif­ic laser is­sue. But he ad­ded that, so far, his agency did not plan on cur­tail­ing any of its oth­er pro­grams in Rus­sia.

“We’re not there yet,” Held said. “We’re study­ing the situ­ation.”

While ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say the Ukraine crisis is hav­ing lim­ited im­pact on nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity ef­forts, they are now cit­ing the an­nex­a­tion in an ef­fort to de­flect per­sist­ent Re­pub­lic­an con­cerns that the Obama team might pur­sue fur­ther re­duc­tions to the U.S. nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al.

“The Rus­si­ans have shown no in­terest in fur­ther re­duc­tions and, I think, giv­en where we are with Ukraine, we don’t have “¦ con­tact on these kinds of is­sues now,” M. Elaine Bunn, the deputy as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of De­fense for nuc­le­ar and mis­sile de­fense policy, said in re­sponse to Re­pub­lic­an in­quir­ies at the same Tues­day hear­ing. She said she did not ex­pect “ne­go­ti­ations on that any­time soon.”

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