Russia and the U.S. are likely to sign a new nuclear arms control deal early next year, but they are still facing "serious difficulties" in talks, Russia's top military officer said Monday.
Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the general staff of the Russian armed forces, said that Russia wants the new agreement to be more fair than the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty it succeeds.
Moscow and Washington agreed to continue to honor main provisions of the START treaty, which expired on Dec. 5, pending the completion and legal ratification of a successor treaty.
President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev conceded during their meeting in Copenhagen on Friday that they were unlikely to sign the pact this year as they had hoped, but struck an optimistic tone.
Makarov's blunt criticism of the START treaty contrasted sharply with official statements from the Kremlin, which hailed it as a cornerstone of strategic stability. His words highlighted tense discussions in the arms control talks.
Russian officials have said previously that Moscow wants to simplify verification measures in a new treaty. The 500-page START contained a sprawling web of control measures seen as crucial for both nations to keep a wary eye on one another's nuclear stockpiles. Russia now sees them as too intrusive and unnecessary.
"I would like to honestly tell you that the START treaty was unfair to Russia," Makarov said without elaboration.
"We want to sign an equal, mutually acceptable treaty which would take into account positions of both parties," he said at a meeting with foreign military attaches.
Makarov said that Russian and U.S. negotiators had agreed on most of the issues related to the new deal, but added that some stumbling blocks remain, including the exchange of missile launch data. "I think that we should be able to sign the treaty early next year, but there are still serious difficulties," he said.
At a summit in Moscow last July, Obama and Medvedev agreed to cut the number of nuclear warheads on each side to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years, as part of a broad new treaty.
Makarov also said Monday that the new Russian military doctrine would say that Russia could use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or if its existence as a state comes under threat because of an attack using other means.
"We have clearly written down that Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons to protect itself and its allies in case nuclear weapons are used by an enemy ... and also in case of a direct threat to the Russian statehood," Makarov said.
He said that the new military doctrine will likely be approved by Medvedev soon.