WASHINGTON, DC -- Russia is "probably" violating the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, a top US military officer said Wednesday (May 29).
Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley, Jr., director of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, voiced alarm at Russia's modernisation of its nuclear forces.
"The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to the nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the zero-yield standard," Ashley said in a speech at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, DC-based think-tank.
"Our understanding of nuclear weapon development leads us to believe that Russia's testing activities would help it improve its nuclear weapons capabilities," he said, adding that, by contrast, the United States has strictly adhered to the ban.
Pressed by a reporter to explain Russia's alleged wrongdoing, Ashley appeared to retreat from the charge that Moscow had actually carried out tests in violation of the treaty.
"I'd say we believe they have the capability to do it, the way they're set up," he said.
The Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, which the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted in 1996, bans all nuclear tests worldwide whether for civilian or military purposes.
It has generally been interpreted as barring all levels of testing, even highly technical, small-scale tests with minimal yields.
The United States has in the past confirmed that Russia is in compliance with the treaty, which Moscow has signed and ratified.
Russia's non-compliance with missile treaty
This news comes a few months after President Vladimir Putin officially suspended Russia's participation in a key Cold War-era arms treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
After years of formal complaints and attempts at diplomatic resolution, the United States and NATO Allies concluded that Russia "openly violates" the landmark Cold War treaty.
Washington has been pointing out INF violations by the Kremlin since 2013, according to the US State Department, which cited the violations in annual reports of 2014 through 2018.
The two countries have begun initial discussions on extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which caps the number of nuclear warheads well below Cold War limits and is set to expire in 2021.
The Trump administration wants to bring China into the treaty, an idea already rejected by Beijing. Its arsenal is rapidly growing but remains a distant third in size.