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Russia's Putin orders plutonium cleanup programme with U.S. to be suspended

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the Central Election Commission at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, September 23, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Michael Klimentyev via REUTERS

MOSCOW Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday to suspend an agreement with the United States on disposing of weapons-grade plutonium, a further sign of worsening ties between the former Cold War foes.

The deal, which was signed in 2000 and went into force under a 2010 agreement, was being suspended due to "the emergence of a threat to strategic stability and as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation", the preamble to the decree said.

It also said that the United States was unable "to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilise surplus weapons-grade plutonium".

The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium by burning it in nuclear reactors.

Clinton said at the time that that was enough material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former adversaries towards a joint goal of nuclear non-proliferation.

Ties between Moscow and Washington plunged to freezing point when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and gave support to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine after protests in Kiev toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich.

Washington led a campaign to impose Western economic sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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