As Russia Ponders Next Moves on Missiles, Lawmaker Suggests Deployment in Venezuela

Dimitri Simes | August 27, 2019 | 3:02am EDT
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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro at Putin’s state residence outside Moscow on December 5, 2018. (Photo: The Kremlin)

Moscow ( – Russia should deploy nuclear missiles in Venezuela, a senior lawmaker in Moscow has suggested, in response to the Pentagon’s recent test of a ground-launched cruise missile that would have been banned under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Russia can only persuade the United States to change its course on arms control through a display of strength, Alexander Sherin, first deputy chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee, told the RIA Novosti news agency on Friday.

“The United States and its leadership have demonstrated throughout history that it is unfortunately impossible to do anything with them using the language of reason and proper communication,” Sherin said.

“Unfortunately, the United States only understands brute and stupid force. In principle, what they use themselves is the only thing they understand.”

One possible option, he said, would be “placing our systems in Venezuela.”

(The Maduro regime in Venezuela, which is viewed as illegitimate by the U.S. and more than 50 other countries, is a close ally of Russia.)

Sherin conceded that such a move could ignite a second “Caribbean Crisis” – the Russia term for the 1962 Cuban missile crisis – but argued that a potential standoff would end in Moscow’s favor.

“This could be called the Caribbean Crisis II, but it was the Caribbean Crisis that cooled the fervor of the United States,” he stated. “If, God forbid, we have to consider and implement such an option, it will be a very tough option, but very effective.”

Sherin’s comments come amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over arms control.

The U.S. exited the 1987 INF Treaty on August 2, after giving Russia six months to return to compliance with it, following accusations that Moscow has developed and deployed missiles of a type and range forbidden under the agreement.

For its part, Russia claims that the U.S. violated the treaty by deploying Mark 41 Vertical Launch Systems as part of its missile defense architecture in Europe. While those systems are configured to fire anti-missile interceptors, Russia pointed out that they could be converted to launch offensive medium-range cruise missiles.

On August 18, the United States tested a cruise missile with a range over 500 kilometers for the first time since the INF treaty came into force in the late 1980s. The Pentagon reportedly used a Mark 41 VLS for the test.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the move by calling on the Defense Ministry to “analyze the level of threat posed to our country by the above actions of the United States, and take exhaustive measures for a reciprocal response.”

Speaking during a meeting of the Russian Security Council on Friday, Putin asserted that the test conclusively demonstrated that the U.S. had broken the terms of the INF Treaty long before it withdrew from the agreement earlier this month.

“The fact that stands out is that the testing of a missile with the characteristics prohibited under this treaty took place only 16 days after the Washington’s denunciation of the treaty,” he said.

“Clearly, the test was not an improvisation but another link in the chain of long-planned measures that were taken in the past,” Putin charged. “This only proves the validity of our concerns that were expressed earlier. Even in prior years, we were aware that the United States had long been developing the weapons banned by the INF Treaty. We repeatedly informed our partners about that.”

Earlier, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver told NPR that the U.S. had begun “conceptual design activities” on ground-launched cruise missiles last February – before the INF Treaty lapsed but after the U.S. had formally suspended its obligations under the treaty and given the Russian six months’ notice. (That followed an earlier U.S. 60-day warning.)

In his remarks to the Russian Security Council, Putin also expressed concern about comments by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to the effect that the U.S. may deploy intermediate-range – conventional, not nuclear – cruise missiles in Asia.

“High-ranking U.S. politicians are claiming that the deployment of new arms systems may start in the Asia-Pacific region, which is also affecting our vital interests because they will be close to the Russian border,” Putin said.

China has also expressed concern about such a prospect.

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