US warns Russia amid reports of new cruise missile

Kremlin denies claims that it has deployed missile of a type contravening 1987 treaty

WASHINGTON • The US this week warned Russia to respect its arms control treaty obligations, amid reports that it has deployed a cruise missile that may breach them.

But the Kremlin has denied the allegations, saying it is committed to honouring its global obligations.

According to The New York Times, Moscow has secretly deployed an operational ground- launched cruise missile unit of a type that contravenes a 1987 US- Russia arms control treaty.

The US State Department would not directly confirm the report, but expressed concern on Tuesday that Russia was in any case already in breach of the Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. "We do not comment on intelligence matters," acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

But, citing a 2016 US treaty compliance report, he said Russia "remains in violation of its INF Treaty obligations". This treaty, signed by then US President Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev, bans ballistic missiles with a range of between 500km and 5,500km.

"We have made very clear our concerns about Russia's violation, the risks it poses to European and Asian security, and our strong interest in returning Russia to compliance with the treaty," Mr Toner said.

"We value the INF Treaty and believe it benefits the security of the United States, our allies, our partners and the Russian Federation."

President Barack Obama's administration had already complained of Russia violating the INF Treaty by testing a banned cruise missile.

Now, the NYTimes report said, this missile has been deployed to active units, including one at a test site in south-west Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has defended Russia's test programme, arguing that the US is also in breach of the INF Treaty and that new missiles are needed to maintain the balance of power.

The US and its Nato allies are deploying an anti-missile shield in eastern and central Europe that Moscow sees as a threat to its nuclear deterrent. Washington insists the interceptor shield is designed to protect Europe from so-called "rogue states" such as Iran.

Yesterday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "Russia has been and remains committed to its international commitments, including to the treaty in question", adding: "Nobody has formally accused Russia of violating the treaty."

The new Russian missile deployment comes as the Trump administration is struggling to fill key policy positions at the State Department and the Pentagon - and to settle on a permanent replacement for Mr Michael Flynn, who quit as national security adviser on Monday.

Mr Flynn stepped down after it was revealed that he had misled the Vice-President and other officials over conversations with Moscow's ambassador to Washington.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'US warns Russia amid reports of new cruise missile'. Print Edition | Subscribe