February 5, 2018 is the date Russia and the United States are supposed to complete the New START reductions, so their nuclear forces have no more than 1550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed launchers, and 800 total deployed and non-deployed launchers. The treaty entered into force on February 5, 2011.

Both states issued statements marking the date. The U.S. statement provided some statistics about the treaty implementation - more than 14,600 notifications, 14 data exchanges, 252 on-site inspections, 14 exhibitions, and 14 meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission. The United States did not provide updated numbers, referring instead to the September 2017 data released in the most recent data exchange - 1393 warheads, 660 deployed and 800 total launchers.

[UPDATE 02/23/18: The United States released the numbers - as of 5 February 2018 it had 1350 deployed warheads, 652 deployed launchers, and 800 total launchers.]

Russia apparently felt it has to update the numbers - in September it was a bit over the limit with 1561 deployed warheads. So, the statement released by the Foreign Ministry (and the Russian-language original) provides an update - 1444 warheads, 527 deployed and 779 total launchers. (I would note in parenthesis that a couple of years ago quite a few people in the U.S. seriously started questioning Russia's intent of meeting its New START obligations. Let me just say that these questions always struck me as odd, to say the least. I guess you have to have very weird ideas about how Russia works and/or belong to the "cheating is in their blood" school of thought to make this argument seriously. Alas, plenty of people do.)

With all this seemingly positive vibe about meeting the obligations, the Russian statement contained a poison pill. It said that the United States reached the limit in part "by reconfiguring a certain number of Trident II SLBM launchers and В-52Н heavy bombers" in a way that does not render them "incapable of employing ICBMs, SLBMs, or nuclear armaments" (see paragraph I.3 in Part Three of the Protocol - it's on p. 90). The statement also accused the United States of "arbitrary converting underground missile launch facilities designated for training into 'training launch facilities,' a category not specified by the Treaty."

The latter accusation is very strange. First, there is this issue of inadequate translation. The terms used for "underground missile launch facilities" and "training launch facilities" in the Russian text are "шахтные пусковые установки" and "учебные шахты" respectively. The proper treaty term for the former is "silo launcher of ICBM"/"шахтная пусковая установка МБР" (see entries 65 and 87 in English and Russian texts). As for "учебная шахта," indeed there is no such thing in the Protocol. There is, however, "silo training launcher"/"шахтная пусковая установка, предназначенная для обучения" (entries 66/87). But it's a legitimate treaty concept and the United States reported these silos as such. I cannot find any instances of "silo training launchers" disappearing and some "training silos" appearing in their stead. In fact, every time "training" appears in U.S. data exchange documents, it does so as part of "silo training launchers," "training facilities," or "training models" of missiles. All these are reporting categories explicitly included in the data exchange template included in the Protocol. I really wish the Foreign Ministry were clearer in describing what it is it believes is a problem.

The conversion business seems different. The treaty gives parties great latitude in designing launcher conversion procedures - that's the paragraph I.3 in Part Three of the Protocol that is referred to in the Russian statement. However, it also allows parties to challenge the procedure - that is in the following paragraph, I.4. Should a party decide that the conversion procedures are "ambiguous or do not achieve [its] goals," it can request a demonstration. As it turns out, Russia did communicate it concerns about some conversion procedures developed by the United States, presumably of Trident II launchers and B-52H bombers, and these concerns did result in a demonstration. It is not clear whether Russia was satisfied with the result - the current statement suggests that it wasn't - but in this case it probably would have said so after the demonstration. There are no signs of Russia's doing that. Since none of this was made public at the time, it is difficult to say exactly what happened and how serious the concern were.

While the seventh anniversary of New START is an important moment in arms control, it has been somewhat clouded by these accusations. There is still time, of course, to resolve all these issues, but it may take a while and a new controversy is not exactly what U.S.-Russian relations need today.