President Vladimir Putin has suspended Russia’s participation in a key nuclear arms treaty, following Washington’s decision to withdraw from it.
Putin’s decree means Russia is suspending its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty and will continue to do so “until the US ends its violations of the treaty or until it terminates”.
The US gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the INF a month ago, setting the stage for it to terminate in six months unless Moscow returns to compliance. Russia has denied any breaches and accused the US of violating the pact.
The US has accused Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500km (310 to 3,410 miles).
The move also reflected Donald Trump’s administration’s view that the treaty was an obstacle to efforts needed to counter intermediate-range missiles deployed by China, which is not part of the treaty.
Russia has charged that the US has breached the pact by deploying missile defence facilities in eastern Europe that could fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors – a claim rejected by Washington.
The collapse of the INF treaty has stoked fears of a replay of a cold war-era Europe missile crisis, when the US and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent during the 1980s.
Such weapons take a shorter time to reach their targets compared with intercontinental ballistic missiles and their deployment was seen as particularly destabilising, leaving no time for decision-makers, and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.
Putin has warned the US against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying that Russia would retaliate by fielding new fast weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets.