President Obama is now directly accusing Moscow of violating the INF Treaty, the 1987 treaty that banned land-based nuclear cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers—medium-range missiles. According to unnamed White House officials quoted by the New York Times, Obama sent a letter to Putin to that effect that was delivered on Monday, July 28. This was preceded by a discussion the day before between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
According to the allegation, Russia has tested a ground-launched cruise missile with capabilities proscribed by the treaty. “The United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the I.N.F. treaty not to possess, produce or flight test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” an upcoming US State Department report on compliance with arms control treaties will reportedly say.
Little is known about the new cruise missile—assuming it actually exists, and if it does, there’s no clear evidence that it’s actually being deployed. The suspicion that it may be in violation of the treaty was first raised to Russian officials in 2013 by Undersecretary of State Rose Goettemoeller, and the Russians responded at the time by saying that the matter was closed. But the real question is, what does the Obama Administration intend to do?
The New York Times notes that, last April, NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said that if Russia is, indeed, developing a capability that’s prohibited by the INF treaty, “It can’t go unanswered.” One response, the Times notes, “might include deploying sea- and air-launched cruise missiles, which would be allowable under the accord.”
No official response has yet been reported from Moscow, but two experts consulted by RIA Novosti dismissed the US allegation as information warfare by the US against Russia. “Washington’s accusations on Russia of violating the INF Treaty appear to be politically engaged. They are a part of the massive anti-Russian campaign, currently waged by the US authorities,” said Igor Krotchenko, a member of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Public Council. Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky, former head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s international cooperation department, agrees with Krotchenko. “We haven’t violated anything. This is a normal work-related issue. We accuse them too,” said Buzhinsky, who noted that there is an official protocol that the United States needs to follow in order to get Russia’s official explanations on the matter. “Everything else is just waging information warfare,” he added.