Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Moscow would start developing short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles if the United States did the same after the demise of a landmark arms control treaty.
The US formally left the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia last week after determining Moscow was violating the treaty and deployed one banned type of missile, an accusation the Kremlin denies.
The pact banned land-based missiles with a range of between 500 to 5 500 km, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
Putin ordered the defence and foreign ministries and Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service to closely monitor steps the US takes to develop, produce or deploy missiles banned under the defunct treaty.
“If Russia obtains reliable information that the United States has developed these systems and started to produce them, Russia will have no option other than to engage in a full-scale effort to develop similar missiles,” Putin said in a statement.
US officials said the United States is months away from the first flight tests of an American intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians. Deployment would be years away, they said.
Putin issued his warning after meeting with Russia’s Security Council to discuss the US move, which Moscow argued against, warning it would undermine a key pillar of international arms control.
Putin said Russia’s arsenal of air and sea-launched missiles combined with work on developing hypersonic missiles meant it was well placed to offset any threat emanating from the United States for now.
He said it was essential for Moscow and Washington, the world’s largest nuclear powers, to resume arms control talks to prevent what he described as an “unfettered” arms race breaking out.
“In order to avoid chaos with no rules, restrictions or laws, we need to once more weigh up the dangerous consequences and launch a serious and meaningful dialogue free from any ambiguity,” Putin said.
Officials from President Donald Trump’s administration, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia deployed “multiple battalions” of a cruise missile in violation of the defunct pact, including in western Russia, “with the ability to strike critical European targets”.
Russia denies the allegation, saying the missile’s range put it outside the treaty and rejected a US demand to destroy the new missile, the Novator 9M729, known as the SSC-8 by the NATO Western military alliance.