Russia rejects US claims of ‘stolen’ nuclear weapons

By RIA Novosti,

Moscow : Russia Friday insisted its nuclear weapons are secure and rejected the allegations by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates that large amounts of Russian nuclear weapons had been stolen or misplaced.

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“Such allegations are entirely groundless,” Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, stressing that all nuclear weapons in the country have been under reliable protection since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991.

“Despite all the difficulties that our country faced in the early 1990s, Russia maintained very high standards of ensuring the safety and physical protection of its nuclear arsenals,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, the US defence secretary said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington that some Russian nuclear weapons from the former Soviet arsenal might not be fully accounted for.

“What worries me are the tens of thousands of old nuclear mines, nuclear artillery shells and so on, because the reality is the Russians themselves probably don’t have any idea how many of those they have or, potentially, where they are,” he added.

In his remarks, Gates also supported the necessity of new talks with Moscow on further strategic arms reductions, which have been advocated by both current US presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.

Negotiated and signed in 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the two countries is scheduled to expire in December, 2009. Under the accord the US and Russia have significantly reduced their number of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles.

Many experts believe that if START expires without replacement verification measures, the two countries will be “flying blind” in their nuclear relations.