WASHINGTON/MOSCOW • The US formally withdrew from a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia yesterday after determining that Moscow was in violation of the treaty, something the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
Washington signalled it would pull out of the arms control treaty six months ago unless Moscow stuck to the accord. Russia called the move a ploy to exit a pact the United States wanted to leave anyway in order to develop new missiles.
The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by former US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the US Senate, eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world's two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
The treaty banned either side from stationing short-and intermediate-range land-based missiles with a range between 500km and 5,500km in Europe.
"The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"Russia's non-compliance under the treaty jeopardises US supreme interests as Russia's development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners," he said.
The senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia had deployed "multiple battalions" of a Russian cruise missile throughout Russia in violation of the pact, including in western Russia, "with the ability to strike critical European targets".
THREAT TO THE UNITED STATES
The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia... Russia's non-compliance under the treaty jeopardises US supreme interests as Russia's development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners.
US SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO, on Washington's formal withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Russia denies the allegation, saying the missile's range puts it outside the treaty. It has rejected a US demand to destroy the new missile, the Novator 9M729.
"We have proposed to the United States and other Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) countries that they weigh the possibility of declaring the same kind of moratorium on the deployment of short-and intermediate-range missiles as ours," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.
President Vladimir Putin said Russia does not want an arms race and has promised he will not deploy Russian missiles unless the US does so first. But should Washington take such a step, he said, he would be forced to deploy Russian hypersonic nuclear missiles on ships or submarines near US territorial waters.
Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Russia's moratorium request yesterday, saying it was "not a credible offer". He said: "There are no new US missiles, no new Nato missiles in Europe, but there are more and more new Russian missiles."
The dispute 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.
US officials said the US was months away from the first flight tests of an American intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians. Any such deployment would be years away, they added.
Mr Trump and Mr Putin spoke by phone on Wednesday about Siberian wildfires and trade. Arms control did not come up in the call, the officials said.
On Thursday, Mr Trump signed an executive order imposing new sanctions on Russia, in response to growing pressure from Congress to further punish Moscow after a nerve agent attack last year against a former Russian spy in Britain.
It is the second round of sanctions since last August to have been imposed by the administration after the botched attempt in March last year to fatally poison former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the English town of Salisbury. US and European intelligence officials accused Russia of staging the attack. Moscow has denied any involvement.
Mr Trump has been reluctant to take punitive actions against Russia and instead is seeking better relations despite Russia's well-documented interference in the US election in 2016.