Following in the footsteps of the US, Russia will abandon a centrepiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday.
US President Donald Trump accused Moscow on Friday of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles.
Mr Trump said in a statement that the US will “move forward” with developing its own military response options to Russia’s new land-based cruise missiles that could target Western Europe.
Moscow has strongly denied any breaches and accused Washington of making false accusations in order to justify its pullout.
The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the US and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent.
Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilising as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.
After the US gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty in six months, Mr Putin said that Russia would do the same. He ordered the development of new land-based intermediate-range weapons, but emphasised that Russia won’t deploy them in the European part of the country or elsewhere unless the US does so.
“We will respond quid pro quo,” Mr Putin said. “Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty and will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly.”
The US accused Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the treaty would terminate in six months unless Russia accepts US demands that it verifiably destroy the cruise missiles that Washington claims are in violation. NATO allies have strongly backed Washington and urged Moscow to save the treaty by returning to compliance.
But Russia has categorically rejected the US claims of violation, charging that the missile, which is part of the Iskander-M missile system, has a maximum range of 480 kilometres. Russian officials claimed that the US assertions about the alleged breach of the pact by Moscow were intended to shift the blame for the pact’s demise to Russia.
Mr Putin has argued that it makes no sense for Russia to deploy a ground-based cruise missile violating the treaty because it has such weapons on ships and aircraft, which aren’t banned by the pact.
Speaking Saturday in televised meeting with his foreign and defence ministers, Mr Putin instructed the military to work on developing new land-based weapons that were previously forbidden by the INF treaty.
At the same time, Putin told his ministers that he would like to review the progress on building other prospective weapons that don’t fall under the INF treaty, including the intercontinental Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle and the Poseidon underwater nuclear-powered drone.
The Russian leader last year unveiled an array of new nuclear weapons, including the Avangard and the Poseidon, saying that they can’t be intercepted.