Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will be forced to respond if the United States withdraws from a bilateral Cold War-era nuclear arms control treaty.
President Putin, in televised comments, said on Wednesday that Russia will develop missiles currently banned under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) if the United States pulls out of the arms control accord and starts making such weapons. Putin said the US had decided long ago to abandon the 1987 treaty and is now looking for justifications by blaming Russia. He, however, said Russia is against scrapping the treaty.
“First the American side stated its intention to withdraw from the treaty … then it began to look for the justifications for doing so,” Putin said, adding, “The primary justification is that we are violating something. At the same time, as usual, no evidence of violations on our part has been provided.” Elsewhere in his address, the Russian president said many countries produce missiles banned under the treaty, but that Moscow and Washington had undertaken to limit themselves with the accord. “Now it seems our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that the United States must also have such a weapon. What’s our response? It’s simple: in that case we will also do this.”
In a separate development on Wednesday, Russian Army Chief of Staff Vasily Gerasimov said in comments released by the defense ministry that Moscow would increase the capabilities of its ground-based strategic nuclear arms. “One of the main destructive factors complicating the international situation is how the US is acting as it attempts to retain its dominant role in the world,” he said. “It is for these purposes that Washington and its allies are taking comprehensive, concerted measures to contain Russia and discredit its role in international affairs.” Meanwhile, the European Union has called for the full implementation of the treaty. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Wednesday pleaded for the treaty to be saved, warning that Europe did not want to become a battlefield for global powers once again, as it had been during the Cold War.
“The INF has guaranteed peace and security in European territory for 30 years now,” Mogherini said as she arrived for talks with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. “It has to be fully implemented, so I hope that the time that is there to work on preserving the treaty and achieving its full implementation can be used wisely from all sides, and we will definitely try to make our part to make sure this happens.” On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington will withdraw from the treaty within 60 days if Russia does not dismantle missiles that America claims breach the accord.
The Cold War-era treaty, which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles, has come into question against a backdrop of renewed tensions between the West and Russia. European leaders worry any collapse of the INF treaty could lead to a new, destabilizing arms race.