1002 GMT November 24, 2020
Washington says that a new Russian medium-range missile system breaches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, although US officials also have an eye on China as the 1987 pact constrains the United States but not the rising Asian power, AFP reported.
President Donald Trump said the United States was suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty as of Saturday and started a process to withdraw in six months.
Russia warns of arms race
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has sought a warm relationship with Trump but is widely reviled by the US establishment earlier declared that the US withdrawal would set off a new arms race.
Ahead of the US announcement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov voiced regret and told reporters that Washington had decided "a long time ago" to "break the treaty."
“We all regret that in the coming days this decision will most likely be implemented,” Peskov told journalists.
“A decision to move to break the treaty was made in Washington a long time ago.”
Russia’s top negotiator on the treaty, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in an interview broadcast Friday insisted Moscow was in compliance.
“We believe that the treaty is needed. It serves the interests of our security and European security,” Ryabkov said.
“It would be extremely irresponsible to undermine it with unilateral steps.”
Ryabkov suggested that Washington was planning to unleash a new arms race that Russia would be unable to win.
“They are probably beginning a race to exhaust us economically,” he said.
Brokered by then US president Ronald Reagan and last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the treaty has banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers and ended a dangerous build-up of warheads in Europe.
"The United States 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," Trump said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States, which formally announced its concerns two months ago, had raised the alleged treaty violation with Russia more than 30 times.
"Russia's violation puts millions of Europeans and Americans at greater risk, it aims to put the United States at a military disadvantage and it undercuts the chances of moving our bilateral relationship in a better direction," Pompeo said.
But Pompeo said that the United States was still willing to talk to Russia in hopes that it comes into compliance.
NATO said in a statement that the US allies "fully support" the US withdrawal and agreed that Russia's 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile systems, whose range is the cause of US concerns, violated the treaty.
But Europeans have also voiced fears of the consequences of the treaty's demise.
"What we definitely don't want to see is our continent going back to being a battlefield or place where other superpowers confront themselves – this belongs to a faraway history," EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said as the bloc's foreign ministers gathered for talks in the Romanian capital Bucharest.
Lithuania and Latvia backed Washington's withdrawal.
But Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said withdrawing was "not the right response," arguing that leaving the treaty would not "succeed in putting more pressure" on Moscow.
Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said history had taught his country "a very clear lesson" – that "whenever there was a conflict between East and West, we central Europeans always lost."
"We as Hungary, I don't think we have too much leverage in this issue. We can just cross fingers for a more pragmatic cooperation between East and West."
To add further to Europe's worries, Moscow's top INF negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, warned that after the collapse of the treaty another key arms control agreement – the New START treaty – could follow.
That agreement, which caps the number of nuclear warheads held by Washington and Moscow, expires in 2021 and Ryabkov said there was a "big question" over what would happen next.
The United States has not spoken publicly about how it would proceed when unbound from the INF Treaty.