Fears of a new arms race between Russia and the United States have been a hot topic, after Washington pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty earlier this year. But the Kremlin is holding out hope that both sides can reach a new agreement.
A top Russian military official announced on Sunday that Moscow has no intentions to deploy missiles, which would be in violation of the INF treaty, in Europe or Asia, unless the United States does so.
“We [Russia] still leave the door open, we maintain a position that we will not take action until such missiles appear in Europe,” said Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in an interview with Rossiya 24, echoing President Vladimir Putin’s remarks made earlier this month.
The minister’s remark came after the U.S. State Department’s Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Andrea Thompson announced last week that American officials were consulting with U.S. allies over the possible deployment of medium-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
In early August, the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the INF Treaty, which prohibited the Soviet Union, and Russia as its successor state, and the U.S. from producing or test-flying ground-launched nuclear cruise and ballistic missiles having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or roughly 300 to 3,400 miles.
The Trump administration maintains that Russia had violated the agreement by developing the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile system, also known as SSC-8, that, according to the U.S., has a range of 500 km, or 311 miles. Although the Kremlin denies this, the U.S. suspended its obligations anyway.
Shoigu believes that Washington was looking for a reason to smash the treaty, saying Washington had allocated funds for the development of medium and short-range missiles long before the U.S. pulled out.
“In fact, eight months, almost a year before this decision [withdrawal from the INF] was made, the [U.S.] budget had included funds for the development of such missiles. These funds were approved, allocated, and aimed at starting the development of such missiles,” Shoigu said, blaming Washington for the breakdown.
“We have never refused dialogue [with Washington], we had offered it from February to August . We showed our openness. We showed [the United States] the missile that caused doubt. The Americans did not come to us.”
Signed in 1987 under the Ronald Regan administration, the INF treaty was considered a major milestone, ending a four-decades-long arms race between the world’s then-sole superpowers.
With the suspension of the INF, the two countries are technically free to develop and deploy intermediate-range missiles. While there is a more recent agreement in place that limits the number of weapons the U.S. and Russia can stockpile – the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as “New START” – it is set to expire in February 2021, and Washington has not expressed intention to prolong it.