MOSCOW – Moscow may respond to Western sanctions by abandoning its latest nuclear weapons agreement with the United States, severing diplomatic relations with Western countries and freezing their assets, a senior Russian official warned on Saturday as Russia’s ties with the West fell to new lows through Ukraine’s invasion.
Russia’s deputy head of the Security Council, chaired by President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, also warned that Moscow could resume the death penalty after removing it from Europe’s top human rights group.
Sanctions have imposed new tough restrictions on Russian financial transactions, imposed a draconian ban on technology exports to Russia, and frozen the assets of Putin and his foreign minister, a severe reaction that has altered previous Western restrictions. Washington and its allies say even tougher sanctions are possible, including expelling Russia from SWIFT, the dominant system of global financial transactions.
In sarcastic comments posted on Russia’s social platform, Medvedev dismissed the sanctions as a manifestation of Western “political impotence” that only consolidates Russia’s leadership and inflames anti-Western sentiment.
“We are being expelled from everywhere, punished and threatened, but we are not afraid,” he said, mocking the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies in an attempt to justify their past shameful decisions, such as a cowardly retreat from Afghanistan.
Medvedev was president in 2008-2012, when Putin had to step down as prime minister due to limited powers. He then allowed Putin to regain the presidency and served as prime minister for eight years.
During his presidency, Medvedev was considered more liberal than Putin, but on Saturday he made a number of threats that even the Kremlin’s most hawkish figures have not mentioned before.
Medvedev noted that the sanctions give the Kremlin a reason to completely reconsider its ties with the West, believing that Russia may abandon the new START nuclear arms control treaty, which limits the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.
The agreement Medvedev signed in 2010 with then-US President Barack Obama limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and provides for extensive on-site inspections to verify compliance. The pact, the last US-Russian nuclear arms control agreement, was due to expire in February 2021, but Moscow and Washington extended it for another five years.
If Russia withdraws from the agreement now, it will lift any tests against US and Russian nuclear forces and pose new threats to global security.
Medvedev also raised the prospect of severing diplomatic relations with Western countries, saying “there is no particular need to maintain diplomatic relations” and adding that “we can look at each other through binoculars and sight.”
Citing Western threats to freeze the assets of Russian companies and individuals, Medvedev warned that Moscow would not hesitate to do the same.
“We should respond in kind by freezing the assets of foreigners and foreign companies in Russia … and perhaps nationalizing the assets of those from unfriendly jurisdictions,” he said. “The fun is just beginning.”
Commenting on the Council of Europe’s move on Friday to suspend Russia’s representation in Europe’s leading human rights organization, Medvedev contemptuously called it one of the “useless nursing homes” that Russia has mistakenly joined.
He added that it was a “good opportunity” to reinstate the death penalty for serious crimes, noting that the United States and China have never stopped using it.
Moscow has maintained a moratorium on the death penalty as part of its commitments since joining the Council of Europe in 1996, and Medvedev’s statement shocked human rights activists and activists.
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