U.S. 'Ruined' INF Treaty, Russia Claims After American Forces Test Nuclear-Capable Missile

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson has blamed the U.S. for collapsing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, citing a recent test of an American nuclear-capable missile as evidence.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday that Thursday's American missile test "clearly confirms" that the Cold War-era agreement failed because of Washington's policies, the Tass state news agency reported.

Both the U.S. and Russia have announced they are pulling out of the INF Treaty, with each side accusing the other of violating the agreement.

The 1987 pact—signed by Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan—banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges from 310 miles to 3,417 miles.

This forced the U.S. and Soviet Union foes to remove some 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles from the battlefield, many of which were deployed along the Iron Curtain.

Officials from both nations have warned that a collapse of the INF Treaty could prompt a new arms race.

On Thursday, the Pentagon confirmed it had conducted "a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile," at the U.S. Air Force base Vandenberg, California, CNN reported.

The test was the second of a weapon that would have been prohibited under the INF Treaty. In August, the U.S. fired a land-based cruise missile that also would have been in violation of the terms of the agreement.

Peskov told journalists, "We've said more than once that the United States has been making preparations for violating the INF Treaty. This clearly confirms that the treaty was ruined at the initiative of the United States."

Asked whether Russia had any information on the kind of missile tested or its capabilities, he replied, "I'm not in the position to make any comments from the technical standpoint [on] the missile's parameters and characteristics."

The U.S. has accused Russia of developing and testing weapons that were banned under the INF Treaty, even while the agreement was still active.

American concerns centered on the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile, which the U.S. said had a range in the bracket prohibited by the INF Treaty. Russia dismissed American assertions and refused to destroy its SSC-8 systems.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Washington this week to meet with both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump. Lavrov told reports that Russia had "directed the attention of our partners at the negative consequences of the U.S. stepping out of the INF Treaty."

He also announced a "unilateral moratorium" on deploying prohibited missiles, provided American forces also do not deploy their own systems.

In a tweet after their meeting, Trump noted he had discussed the INF Treaty with Lavrov, among several other matters.

The National Defense Authorization Act—passed by the House this week—blocks the "procurement and deployment of new ground launched INF-range missiles in fiscal year 2020 and requires information on the analysis of alternatives to such new missiles, basing options and foreign countries consulted, including NATO."

On Thursday, reporters asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the significance of the ballistic missile test. "Once we develop intermediate range missiles and if my commanders require them, then we will work closely and consult closely with our allies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere with regard to any possible deployments," he explained, according to CNN.

Another key arms control treaty—New START—is on the edge of lapsing. The agreement, due to expire in 2021, introduced a cap of 1,550 accountable deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs for both the U.S. and Russia.

It also limited the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers used for nuclear missions to 700. The total number of deployed and non-deployed assets is capped at 800.

Dmitry Peskov, INF Treaty, US, missile, test
This file photo shows Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov at Russian-Turkish-Iranian talks in Sochi, Russia, February 14,2019. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty