Russia hopes the extension of the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms-control treaty will give a new boost to restarting a strategic dialogue between Moscow and Washington, Russia's deputy UN ambassador has said.
"I would say that currently there are more reasons for optimism because yesterday our presidents held a telephone conversation and agreed to extend New START by five years," said Dmitry Polyansky, according to TASS. "But does this prevent problems in US-Russian relations? I would not say so."
Polyansky told a press briefing at the United Nations in New York that Moscow recognized some people in the new U.S. administration's foreign-policy team who bring a "certain legacy with them," and this "explains why we are somewhat cautious."
Polyansky did not name the people he referred to, but President Joe Biden's choice to serve as undersecretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, is known as a Russia hawk. She irritated the Kremlin when she expressed solidarity with demonstrators in Ukraine in the early days of a pro-Western uprising.
Nuland was assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs at the time. In her new position, she will hold the third-highest spot in the State Department.
But Nuland wrote an opinion piece last summer in which she said the next U.S. president should "try again" with Russian President Vladimir Putin to improve bilateral relations.
Polyansky said if the approach of the Biden administration is about "featuring Russia as kind of a rogue state...that deserves isolation, sanctions" and if there is no dialogue and understanding about what is behind the current world political situation, "I don’t think that there will be much of a breakthrough."
"So we're not too pessimistic," Polyansky said. "We're realists."
Polyansky said Russia will shape its opinion of the new administration and its attitude toward Russia "on the basis of concrete actions."
The diplomat said there were a lot of security and strategic issues on the table, including arms control, which required "a serious, in-depth dialogue, on equal footing."
But the first phone call between Putin and Biden underscored the troubled relations between the United States and Russia.
While the Kremlin focused on the New START treaty, the White House said Biden raised concerns about the arrest of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, Moscow's alleged involvement in a massive cyber-espionage campaign, and unverified reports of Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
On each of these issues, Polyansky said, "there are a lot of allegations but there are no proofs, and there are no facts."
Polyansky expressed hope that the agreement to extend the New START will spur a dialogue.
The lower house of parliament, or State Duma, voted unanimously on January 27 to extend the New START for five years. It was then approved quickly in the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.
The extension was "a step in the right direction," Putin said in an address to the Davos Economic Summit on January 27, adding that "challenges remain" that could cause "a real setback in global development, which is fraught with a fight of all against all and attempts to resolve looming controversies through a search for internal and external enemies."
"The situation can develop unpredictably and spin out of control if nothing is done to prevent it," he said, while expressing "hope" that global conflicts are a thing of the past since they could mean "the end of civilization."
New START, the last remaining arms-control pact between Washington and Moscow, limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550, deployed strategic delivery systems at 700, and provides for a verification regime.