Russia has voiced concern over the AUKUS defence deal between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, warning the pact threatens global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
Under the trilateral agreement for the Indo-Pacific region, announced last month, Australia will become only the second country after the UK to be given access to the US nuclear technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.
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Moscow said earlier this week it was seeking more information about AUKUS. On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted the Kremlin was uneasy over the deal.
Moscow is “concerned” about the partnership that will allow Australia “after 18 months of consultations and several years of attempts, to obtain nuclear-powered submarines in sufficient numbers to become one of the top five countries for this type of armaments”, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.
“This is a great challenge to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.”
Currently, only six countries possess nuclear-propelled submarines – Russia, the US, the UK, France, India and China.
The AUKUS deal has also unnerved China, which wields growing influence in the Indo-Pacific, and angered France, a longtime ally of the US, Australia and the UK.
Canberra scrapped a multibillion-dollar deal with France to build conventional submarines after signing the pact. It will instead build at least eight nuclear-powered vessels with US and British technology.
The cancellation infuriated France, with Paris recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington.
Paris has also called for the European Union members to better defend their interests and, as a bloc, develop their own military capabilities in light of the AUKUS deal.
In solidarity with France, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has questioned whether the bloc could strike a trade deal with Australia.
On Friday, Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the next round of talks with the EU over such a deal has been postponed.
Tehan declined to comment on whether the AUKUS frictions were behind the delay.
“I will meet with my EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis next week to discuss the 12th negotiating round, which will now take place in November rather than October,” he said in a statement.
A European Commission spokesperson said: “A one-month delay will also allow us to better to prepare.”
The Commission has previously said the AUKUS announcement had prompted a “period of reflection”.