President Vladimir Putin says his military has “caught up with U.S. missile capabilities” and that should Washington leave a 1980s-era arms control agreement Moscow would respond symmetrically.
Putin made his comments as he spoke to international policy experts at the Valdai forum in Sochi, a Russian city on the Black Sea coast. He added that Russia would respond immediately and in kind if the U.S. opts to leave the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
American officials have already accused Moscow of developing missiles banned by the treat, which the Kremlin has denied.
In 1987 at the height of the Cold War President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the agreement, which aimed to mutually eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles built for ranges between 500-5,500 km (310 miles – ~3417 miles).
Putin says the treaty unfairly advantaged the United States and that for the then-Soviet Union it amounted to “unilateral disarmament.” He added that Russia has since developed cruise missiles within that range for the navy and air force.
If need be, Putin added that Russia was ready to develop new weapons systems, both nuclear and non-nuclear, in response to other countries doing the same.
Earlier this year Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, told Congress U.S. intelligence had detected that Russia has indeed deployed cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 treaty.
“We believe that the Russians have deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the spirit and intent of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty,” Selva told the House Armed Services Committee. “The system itself presents a risk to most of our facilities in Europe,” he added. “And we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.”
A month earlier, American media reported that Russia had deployed a battalion of the prohibited missiles. A typical battalion has four launchers, each of which is equipped with six missiles.
Asked if Russia could be persuaded to return to compliance, Selva was skeptical.
“I don’t have enough information on their intent to conclude, other than that they do not intend to return to compliance,” he said.
Analyst Comment: Putin’s posturing aside, it’s possible he deployed the prohibited missiles — which he no doubt knew would be detected by U.S. and Western satellite intelligence — in a bid to convince the U.S. to leave the treaty so he could deploy more of them at will. He sees NATO beefing up its perimeter with Russia and appears to be looking for any advantage he can find to pose a credible counter-threat.
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