MOSCOW/WASHINGTON • Russia yesterday accused the United States of stoking military tensions by testing a ground-launched cruise missile, but said it would not be drawn into an arms race, TASS news agency reported.
The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500km of flight, its first such operation since the demise of a landmark Cold War-era nuclear pact this month.
The US formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a landmark 1987 pact, with Russia on Aug 2, after accusing Moscow of violating the pact, a charge dismissed by the Kremlin.
Moscow, on its part, has accused Washington of breaking the pact, allegations rejected by the US.
The US missile test would have been prohibited under the treaty.
"All this elicits regret, the United States has obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions. We will not succumb to provocations," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
The treaty banned land-based missiles with a range of 500km to 5,500km, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice. It was negotiated by former US president Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev.
The US missile launch was a sign of Washington beefing up its capabilities in the wake of the collapse of the INF. Many fear the end of the INF will lead to a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.
"We will not allow ourselves to get drawn into a costly arms race," Mr Ryabkov said, adding that Moscow would stick to a unilateral moratorium on such missile systems "if and when we get them, as long as the US does not deploy them anywhere in the world".
Meanwhile, China, warned yesterday that cruise missile tests by the US would start a new "arms race".
All this elicits regret, the United States has obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions. We will not succumb to provocations.
RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI RYABKOV
"This measure from the US will trigger a new round of an arms race, leading to an escalation of military confrontation, which will have a serious negative impact on the international and regional security situation," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
Mr Geng said the US should "let go of its Cold War mentality" and "do more things that are conducive to... international and regional peace and tranquillity".
In a statement, the Pentagon said the missile test took place on Sunday on San Nicolas Island, California. US officials had said for some months that they had planned to carry out the test in August. The US plans to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile in November.
"The testing by (the) US military of a land-based missile banned under INF treaty two weeks after the official termination of this treaty is a blatant cynicism and mockery of the international community," the RIA news agency cited Russian lawmaker Frants Klintsevich as saying on Monday.
The row is aggravating the worst US-Russia friction since the Cold War ended in 1991. Some experts believe the treaty's collapse could undermine other arms control agreements and speed up an erosion of the global system designed to block the spread of nuclear arms.
A Pentagon spokesman told Reuters that Sunday's test used an MK41 launcher, but the system tested was not the same as the Aegis Ashore missile defence system now operating in Romania and under construction in Poland.
"Russia had alleged for years that the land-based MK41 could launch Tomahawks and therefore would violate the treaty," said Mr Kingston Reif, director for disarmament research at the Arms Control Association advocacy group.
"Even though this is the first test of the combination, Russia will no doubt claim vindication," he said.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has said that while he is in favour of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia, it could be years before such weapons are ready to be deployed.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE