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US suspends INF missile treaty

Alexander Pearson | Chase Winter
February 1, 2019

The US has begun its withdrawal from the INF treaty with Russia, prompting Moscow to also suspend its participation in the 1987 arms control pact. President Putin said Russia would start work on building new missiles.

Protest against end of INF treaty
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

The White House announced Friday it would withdraw from a landmark Cold War-era missile treaty with Russia effective Saturday, raising the specter of a dangerous and costly arms race in Europe.

The withdrawal "will be completed in 6 months unless Russia comes back into compliance by destroying all of its violating missiles, launchers, and associated equipment," it said in a statement.

The US would develop "military response options" and work with its NATO allies "to deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct," it added, without elaborating.

Trump suggests new treaty

President Vladimir Putin announced Saturday that Russia too would be suspending its participation in the treaty.

"Our American partners have announced they are suspending their participation in the deal, and we are also suspending our participation," Putin said.

Speaking at a televised meeting with foreign and defense ministers, Putin said Russia would begin creating new intermediate-range missiles but would not deploy them unless the US did so first. The Russian president also told ministers not to seek disarmament negotiations with Washington.

"We will wait until our partners have matured enough to conduct an equal, meaningful dialogue with us on this important topic," he said.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump told reporters that he was interested in holding talks to create a new arms control treaty.

"I hope that we're able to get everybody in a big and beautiful room and do a new treaty that would be much better," he said, without elaborating.

Read more: What is the INF nuclear treaty?

The fear of nuclear weapons

NATO backs US

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance "fully" supported the US withdrawal announcement. 

"Russia is in material breach of the INF Treaty and must use [the] next six months to return to full and verifiable compliance or bear sole responsibility for its demise," he said.

Read more: Germany demands Russia verify its commitment to INF missile treaty

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, "Russia is not ready to restore treaty compliance."

"Without the treaty, there will be less security," he said, adding that all sides should avoid any talk of building up their arsenals and instead seek "comprehensive arms control."

France said that while it regrets the US decision, Russia should use the next six months to once again comply with the treaty.

What's the INF?

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) bans nuclear-capable missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,420 miles).

The United States and its NATO allies, including Germany, say Russia's 9M729 cruise missile exceeds the 500 kilometer limit.

The US has also noted that China, which is not party to the INF, has built up a large arsenal of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in recent years.

The former US ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, told DW that was the main reason for the US withdrawal from the INF.

"The treaty does not deal with the new reality of a world in which countries like China are proliferating the deployment of intermediate nuclear and non-nuclear forces," he said.

Russia says the range is limited to 480 kilometers.

Read more: Russia's controversial 9M729 missile system: A not-so-secret secret

Germany to talk with Russia

Shortly before the US decision was announced, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government would continue working with Russia after a US withdrawal.

"It is clear to us that Russia has violated this treaty," she said. "The important thing is to keep the window for dialogue open."

Read more:  US: Russia's INF rhetoric a 'laughable' fraud

In December, the US said it would withdraw from the INF if Russia failed to prove its compliance by February 2.

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DW's US correspondent Michael Knigge contributed to this report.