(CNSNews.com) – Following the United States’ lead, Russia will suspend participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, President Vladimir Putin said at the weekend, giving his defense minister the go-ahead to pursue new land-based intermediate-range missile options.
He said, however, that Russia would not deploy those new missiles in Europe or elsewhere unless the U.S. does the same.
Putin told his foreign and defense ministers not to initiate any further disarmament talks with the U.S. until Washington was “ready to engage in equal and meaningful dialogue,” since the U.S. has responded to such initiatives in recent years by finding “pretexts to further dismantle the existing international security architecture.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday gave formal notice that the U.S. will exit the Cold War-era treaty in six months’ time, unless Russia returns to compliance.
Signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, the treaty banned all ground-launched cruise or ballistic missile with ranges between roughly 300 and 3,400 miles.
While the U.S. accuses Moscow of deploying a cruise missile prohibited by the INF Treaty, Russia claims it is the U.S. that is violating the agreement.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin the U.S. has been contravening the treaty since 1999, first by testing combat UAVs that share the characteristics of INF-banned cruise missiles, and more recently in its ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in central Europe.
The Pentagon disputes that the BMD shield, which is designed to protect against an Iranian missile threat, violates the INF Treaty.
For more than five years the U.S. has raised concerns with Russia over its development of a cruise missile named 9M729, a weapon that potentially poses a short-warning conventional or nuclear threat to U.S. allies in Europe.
Last December the Trump administration, supported by NATO, gave Moscow 60 days to return to compliance with treaty, failing which the U.S. would begin the withdrawal process.
Those 60 days have now passed, and in his statement on Friday, Pompeo said the U.S. had given Russia “an ample window of time to mend its ways.”
In a statement, President Trump said the U.S. “has fully adhered to the INF Treaty for more than 30 years, but we will not remain constrained by its terms while Russia misrepresents its actions. We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other.”
In an interview recorded the same day, and aired Sunday, Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “there's been no president that has been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”
Friday’s announcement won strong support from NATO, which urged Moscow to use the six months remaining “to return to full and verifiable compliance” by destroying all of its 9M729 missile systems.
If the treaty does die, it said, “Russia will bear sole responsibility.”
Putin on Saturday portrayed Moscow’s response as a “symmetrical” one.
“Our U.S. partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the INF Treaty, and we are suspending it too,” he said. “They said that they are engaged in research, development and design work, and we will do the same.”
Putin then gave Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu the go-ahead to pursue “retaliatory measures,” including modifying sea-based Kalibr missile systems to enable ground launches, and “work on a new project to develop a land-based hypersonic intermediate-range missile.”
This would likely be a modification of the air-borne hypersonic Kinzhal (Dagger) missile, which Russia says is the first of its kind in the world.
Kalibrs or Kinzhals adapted to be launched from the ground would be prohibited under the INF Treaty.
At the same time, Putin left a door open for a tacit understanding with the U.S.
“Russia will not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons – if we develop weapons of this kind – neither in Europe nor anywhere else until U.S. weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world,” he told Shoigu and Lavrov.
Meanwhile Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged the U.S. and Russia to resolve their differences and save the treaty.
But he also stressed that Beijing does not support replacing the INF Treaty with a new, multilateral one.
“China opposes the multilateralization of this treaty,” he told a briefing. “What is imperative at the moment is to uphold and implement the existing treaty instead of creating a new one.”
China has the world’s fifth-largest nuclear weapons arsenal, and most of its nuclear and conventional missiles fall within the range prohibited by the INF Treaty.
Not surprisingly, it has long opposed having INF-type limitations placed on its weaponry.
The INF Treaty has applied only to the U.S., Russia, and 11 other former Soviet successor states.
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