Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that the US had given Russia 60 days to comply with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty or it would no longer abide by the agreement and could produce, test and deploy new missiles in NATO member states.
“The United States today declares it has found Russia in material breach of the treaty and will suspend our obligations as a remedy effective in 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance,” the Secretary of State said.
The ultimatum could foreshadow a new arms race, with serious consequences for Europe. The INF treaty has kept nuclear-armed missiles off European soil for nearly three decades. If it breaks down, the US nuclear missiles could be returned to Europe as early as February.
Pompeo made the announcement following the meetings with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. He outlined longstanding US allegations of Russian violations of the cold war-era treaty with the development and deployment of a new ground-launched cruise missile known as the SSC-8.
The SSC-8 (Novator 9M729) is a Russian ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) labeled a “missile of concern” by the United States after allegedly being test launched from a road-mobile launcher in violation of the INF Treaty. Moscow claims the missile is fully compliant with the INF Treaty and not capable to fly beyond the 500 km (310 mi) INF range limit. The SSC-8 is reported to be a ground-launched variant of the Russian naval cruise missile SS-N-27 Sizzler (3M-54 Kalibr) and mounted on the same road-mobile launcher as the SS-26 Stone (the 9K720 Iskander-M) short-range ballistic missile system.
In a separate statement, the NATO foreign ministers supported Pompeo and formally concluded Russia to be in material breach of the treaty with its development of new ground-based missile systems and urged Moscow to come back into compliance under the terms.
“Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security. We strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty,” the NATO foreign ministers said.
Moscow ones again denied these new accusations made by the Secretary of State and his European colleagues. “Russia is following the provisions of the INF treaty and the American side knows this well,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded to Pompeo.
Previously, Russia has also accused the US of violating the treaty by deploying Mk 41 launchers capable of firing cruise missiles as well as SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles in Romania and Poland. Deploying of land-based cruise missiles is strictly prohibited by the INF treaty as well as development, production, testing and deployment of ballistic missiles with ranges of 500 – 5,500 km (310 – 3,420 mi).