US Ready to Pull Out of Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia Next Week

The 9M729 land-based cruise missile in Kubinka outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
The 9M729 land-based cruise missile in Kubinka outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The U.S. is prepared to drop out of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) next week unless Russia ceases violations of developing new missiles, a chief State Department arms negotiator said Thursday.

"If Russia isn't in compliance, we'll suspend our obligations" under INF, said Andrea Thompson, the State Department's undersecretary for arms control and international security.

Should the U.S. withdraw, the Defense Department would immediately begin research and development on new intermediate-range missiles and countermeasures to Russia's new Novator 9M729 missile, which the U.S. claims violates INF bans on land-based cruise missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,420 miles, she said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C.

"That will start after Feb. 2 if Russia is not in compliance," Thompson said of the as-yet-undefined U.S. countermeasures. "Our Defense [Department] counterparts will move ahead" with developments.

On Wednesday, Russian military officials and deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's senior arms negotiator, presided at a static display in Moscow for foreign military attaches of the Novator 9M729, which they claimed has a range just under the INF's 310-mile limit.

Lt. Gen. Mikhail Matveyevsky, chief of missiles and artillery for the Russian military, said the display was evidence of Russia's "increased transparency and our adherence to the INF treaty," according to Russian media outlets.

The Russian claims were dismissed by Thompson, a retired Army colonel and former commander of the 902nd Military Intelligence Group.

She charged that the new Russian missiles have already been deployed.

"It's in the field. It's soldiers in uniform, multiple battalions. It's already occurred," Thompson said, adding that the U.S. had the support of NATO allies in challenging the Russians.

Thompson said she was accompanied by Joint Chiefs of Staff aides last week for meetings in Moscow with Ryabkov in a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise that would keep the U.S. in the INF.

"I was all ears," she said. "It wasn't the normal bluster, propaganda, the kind of dramatics that [we often] associate with some of these meetings. The deputy foreign minister did have the right people in the room, as did we. But as I said before, we didn't break any new ground."

Thompson added, "The Russians acknowledged having the system but continued to say in their talking points it didn't violate the INF treaty."

U.S. presentations of intelligence information show otherwise.

Thompson said it is possible that she might meet again with Ryabkov on the sidelines of arms meetings in China next week, but she held out little prospect that Russia would comply with the Feb. 2 deadline. When asked if she were optimistic, Thompson said she wasn’t.

"The act of fielding a system that violates the treaty brought the demise of the treaty or the failure of the treaty," she said. "To not acknowledge it, and to continue to allow it, I think is an action that undermines arms control."

The INF treaty was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and then-Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, and ratified by the U.S. Senate the following year.

Last October, President Donald Trump announced his intention to "terminate" the treaty.

"Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years," he said at a rally in Elko, Nevada. "And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to.

"We'll have to develop those weapons," Trump said, "unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us, and they all come to us and say, 'Let's really get smart, and let's none of us develop those weapons.' "

In early December, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. was giving Russia 60 days, ending Feb. 2, to come into compliance with the INF treaty or the U.S. would withdraw.

"It makes no sense for the United States to remain in a treaty that constrains our ability to respond to Russia's violations," Pompeo said at a NATO meeting in Brussels.

On Dec. 20, at his annual news conference in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued dire warnings that U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty could trigger a new arms race that would threaten world peace.

"We are witnessing the breakup of the arms control system," raising the prospect of nuclear war, Putin said. "It could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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