Vladimir Putin says he has ordered a reciprocal response after the US tested a missile that would have been banned under the now-scrapped INF treaty. But he said Russia would not be dragged into an expensive arms race.
A test medium-range ground-launched cruise missile exits its ground mobile launcher at the US Navy-controlled San Nicolas Island off the coast of Los Angeles, California.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he had ordered the military to prepare a "symmetric response" after Washington tested a type of ground-launched missile that was banned under a 1987 treaty.
He said he had also ordered an analysis of "the level of threat for our country created by the action of the US." He added that the test confirmed Moscow's prior suspicions that the US had planned to deploy banned weapons in Europe, as it used a launcher similar to those deployed at a US missile defense site in Romania and a prospective site in Poland.
"How would we know what they will deploy in Romania and Poland — missile defense systems or strike missile systems with a significant range?" he said, claiming that the test had disproven US assurances that the launchers were suitable only for interceptor missiles, not surface-to-surface missiles.
Russia "will not be pulled into an expensive arms race destructive for our economy," he said, but will need to "ensure the safety of our people and our country."
Putin's address followed a heated exchange between the US and Russia at a UN meeting on Thursday, where each accused the other of risking a new arms race, while China stood by and asserted it would not be involved in any new missile deal.
Earlier this month, the US and Russia abandoned the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, a Cold War-era pact, after each blamed the other for violating the accord.
Russia requested the UN Security Council meeting after the US tested a ground-launched, medium-range cruise missile earlier this week, the type of potentially nuclear-capable weapon whose testing was banned by the treaty.
Deputy Russian Ambassador to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy criticized what he called American "hypocrisy," asserting that the US had "consistently and deliberately violated the INF treaty for some time," and that the missile test on August 18 proved it.
Polyanskiy also told the Security Council that the test showed "America is ready for an arms race," while Russia was ready for "serious dialogue" regarding arms control.
In response, Polyanskiy's US counterpart, Jonathan Cohen, said Russia had decided more than a decade ago to violate its INF treaty obligations, and has deployed multiple battalions of ground-launched cruise missiles "with the ability to strike critical European targets."
Cohen also said that Russia and China "would still like a world where the United States exercises self-restraint while they continue their arms buildups unabated and unabashed."
Cohen instead argued for what he called a new "serious arms control" deal that would also include China and "goes beyond treaties focused on limited types of nuclear weapons or missile ranges."
China's UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, said that Beijing had "no interest" in entering into such a treaty with the US and Russia.
The US missile tested on Sunday was a version of the nuclear-capable Tomahawk cruise missile. The ground-launched version of the Tomahawk was removed from service after the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was ratified in the late 1980s.
mmc/kl (Reuters, AP)