The United States officially ended its Cold War era treaty with Russia which prohibited the development of ground-launched medium range nuclear missiles. The US claims that Russia has been violating the treaty for years by developing it’s 9M729 missile system. Russia has maintained that the missile system does not violate the treaty. In November 2018, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed they tested the missile and that it flew within the parameters allowed in the treaty.
The treaty was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and bans U.S. and Russian land-based missiles with a range between 300 and 3,400 miles. The United States first alleged in its July 2014 Compliance Report that Russia is in violation of its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” Subsequent State Department assessments from 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 repeated these allegations. Secretary Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter early Friday morning, “On Feb 2nd, 2019 the U.S. gave Russia six months to return to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia refused, so the treaty ends today. The U.S. will not remain party to a treaty when others violate it. Russia bears sole responsibility.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting with his defense and foreign ministers, “Our American partners have announced the suspension of their participation in the treaty, so we will suspend as well. We will wait until our partners are ready to carry out an equal, substantial dialogue with us on this very important topic—for us, for our partners, and for the whole world.” Putin ordered officials not to initiate any talks on disarmament.
France, Germany and other NATO allies have backed America's claim that Russia has been violating the treaty. Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the transatlantic alliance would "respond in a measured and responsible way to the significant risks posed by the Russian 9M729 missile to allied security". He added that NATO "does not want a new arms race" and confirmed there were no plans for the alliance to deploy land-based nuclear missiles of its own in Europe. Last month, he told the BBC that the Russian missiles were nuclear-capable, mobile, very hard to detect, and could reach European cities within minutes.
The US already planned to start testing a new class of missiles later this summer. However, the new missiles are most likely to be deployed to counter China, which has amassed an imposing missile arsenal and is now seen as a much more formidable long-term strategic rival than Russia.
Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the non-proliferation program at the Washington-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, is worried the dissolution of arms control treaties will bring the world closer to a new arms race. "Nothing good will come out of the US withdrawal, the Trump administration has made a huge mistake. It's a breakdown of arms control. It's a breakdown of trust between US and Russia. The US will have problems with its European allies, and it will engage in a new arms race with China as well." The one major arms control treaty remaining with Russia is the far larger one called New START, which appears unlikely to be renewed when it expires in less than two years.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters Thursday that the treaty's expiration means "the world will lose an invaluable brake on nuclear war. This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles." He urged the US and Russia to "urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control."
Correction: A previous version of this story included an analyst’s opinion in the graphic.