Vladimir Putin has threatened that Russia will develop new missiles banned by the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty if the US exits the pact and pursues an arms buildup of its own.
The Russian president’s remarks came one day after the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said Moscow was in “material breach” of the cold war-era treaty and issued a 60 day ultimatum for Russia to correct the alleged violations. Otherwise, he said, the US would quit the 1987 accord, considered a milestone in reducing the threat of a nuclear war in Europe.
In Moscow on Wednesday, Putin told journalists the US had provided “no evidence” of Russian violations, and threatened an arms race if the US sought to develop new medium-range missiles after exiting the treaty.
“Apparently, our American partners believe that the situation has changed so drastically that the US should also have such weapons”, Putin said in remarks carried by the Interfax news service. “What response is our side to give? A simple one: then we’ll do the same”.
The arms treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, banned ground-launched missiles with a range between 500-5,500km. The US and Nato have said that tests of a new Russian cruise missile, designated 9M729, violate the treaty.
The US effort to exit the treaty was spearheaded by John Bolton, Donald Trump’s hawkish national security adviser.
Bolton has ordered the Pentagon to “develop and deploy ground-launched missiles at the earliest possible date”.
While it would take a substantial length of time to develop an entirely new missile, existing medium-range weapons in the US arsenal, such as sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, could be adapted for ground launch more quickly, arms experts said.
However, Nato allies would have to agree unanimously to have any new missile deployed in Europe.
The standoff comes amid a buildup of Russian and Nato forces in Europe, including nuclear forces. Nato claims that Russia has deployed nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, and on Wednesday the Russian military confirmed it had deployed powerful new anti-ship missiles to Crimea following last month’s maritime clash with Ukraine.