Moscow reneges on nukes
RUSSIA appears to be feeling the effect of sanctions and has suspended an agreement with the US to dispose of surplus weapons- grade plutonium.
This latest sign of worsening relations is seen mainly as a response to: US criticism of Russian violations of human rights; sanctions introduced after President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea; and the presence of NATO forces in the Baltics and former Warsaw Pact countries that joined NATO after the collapse of the USSR.
President Putin accused the US of creating "a threat to strategic stability, as a result of unfriendly actions” towards Russia and said the country had to take urgent measures to defend its security.
Under the deal brokered in 2000 as part of cuts to nuclear forces, each side is to burn 34 tonnes of plutonium by using it in reactors.
The US State Department said the combined 68 tonnes of plutonium was enough for about 17,000 nuclear weapons.
Russia is modernising its nuclear arsenal.
President Putin set conditions for the plutonium disposal to resume, including reduction of US military nearby and lifting of all sanctions.
In a separate development, the US said it was suspending talks with Russia over the Syrian crisis.
Washington said Moscow had not lived up to the terms of last month's ceasefire agreement, which has since collapsed.
The Kremlin said it regretted the decision, accusing the US of trying to shift the blame to Russia.
Tensions between Washington and Moscow were already high before last month over Russia's bombing campaign in Syria, which some have described as a war crime.
Russian planes have been helping Syrian Government forces to hit rebel groups, some of which are supported by the US and its allies.
Russian and Syrian aircraft have apparently also bombed hospitals, a water supply and an aid convoy.