Russia is covertly developing and testing nuclear missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Obama administration to date has failed to hold Moscow accountable, according to arms control specialists.
"The Russians have basically violated every major treaty they’ve ever entered into, certainly every major weapons treaty," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. He is also a leader of a Senate arms control group.
The comments were made at a panel discussion Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation on Russian violations of the INF treaty.
The Free Beacon first reported in October that a Russian test of a new missile, the RS-26, violated the INF treaty. The accord prohibits ballistic missiles with ranges of 5,500 kilometers (3,415 miles) or less, and cruise missiles with ranges less than 500 kilometers (310 miles).
Last month, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration notified NATO allies that Russia’s new R-500 cruise missiles violated the accord.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki later confirmed the potential treaty violation was raised in talks with the Russians.
On Feb. 6, three House committee chairman—Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.), Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), and Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.)—stated in a letter to the president that there is "compelling evidence" Moscow is "in material breach and circumvention" of the INF treaty.
Rubio said State Department officials have dismissed the Russian treaty violations by saying that continuing to hold arms talks with Moscow is more important and a sign of progress in often-chilly U.S.-Russian relations.
"And I think that’s a very dangerous worldview," Rubio said.
The Obama administration has failed to address the treaty violations and also did not notify U.S. allies until news of the breach was about to be made public, Rubio said. The lapse undermined U.S. reliability and credibility with its allies.
Rubio said he is very worried about the national security impact of the reported INF violations and the administration’s failure to regard them seriously, adding that U.S. allies in Europe increasingly view the United States as an unreliable partner.
Rubio is a co-chair of the Senate National Security Working Group assigned to investigate the Russian arms noncompliance issue. The group has been hampered in its work by internal committee disputes, he said.
However, he said, "One of the areas that we continue to focus on is the argument that we should not be entering any more negotiations with the Russians on any weapons systems so long as they are openly violating … habitually violating multiple different agreements." He added that the treaty breaches are discussed openly in Russian state-run news reports.
Earlier, Mark Schneider, a former senior Pentagon official, said the evidence of multiple Russian INF violations is "compelling" and includes official Russian statements.
Schneider said Russia appears engaged in five INF breaches including the R-500 ground-launched cruise missile, also called the Iskander K, which has a range over 600 miles, and testing the RS-26 intercontinental missile to INF ranges.
Other Russian INF violations include development of a nuclear-capable Iskander M short-range ballistic missile, covert retention of the Soviet-era Skorost intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and the nuclear ground strike capabilities of several Russian surface-to-air and anti-missile systems, he said.
"If you put all of this together, it’s a very disturbing pattern, and it is a very serous threat to our allies," Schneider said.
The noncompliance problems are made worse by what Schneider called the administration’s "very weak compliance policy."
"We knew about this cruise missile in late 2011 and didn’t raise it with the Russians until May 2013," he said, noting that the annual State Department arms compliance report also omitted the violation.
Schneider said the Russian missiles represent a "quite considerable capability that should not exist" because of the INF treaty. "You really can’t divorce arms control from compliance," he said.
Keith Payne, also a former Pentagon official involved in strategic nuclear deterrence policy, said at the panel discussion that the Russians appear to be calculating that the administration will continue its passive response to the treaty noncompliance.
Doing so allows Moscow to avoid international negative reaction to its withdrawing from the INF treaty while covertly avoiding adhering to its limits on missiles, Payne said. "They can have their cake and eat it too," he said.
The "politically correct" view, Payne noted, is that INF treaty noncompliance is not important and that it is unseemly to raise the issues at the expense of U.S.-Russia relations. Arms control proponents also have argued that new arms pacts are needed to solve the noncompliance problems, a position Payne rejected.
Payne said unless the INF violations are corrected, there is a risk U.S. allies will be forced to shift allegiance away from the United States, which currently provides extended nuclear deterrence.
"If in fact the Russian Federation deploys these types of [INF] systems that according to its press are in serial production, and the Russian Federation does that and magnifies the nuclear threats to some of our allies and makes those threats rhetorically explicit, which Russian leaders have done in the past, all we’re doing is compelling our allies to have to confront the choice—where are they going to go, what are they going to do, as opposed to being able to rely on a credible U.S. alliance, and the credibility of extended U.S. deterrence," Payne said.
"That’s a choice we should not compel our allies to have to make and why this INF Treaty violation is a big deal."
Robert Joseph, former undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, said the administration continues to harbor the illusion that Russia will be a partner in nuclear reductions.
He noted that Russia has violated nearly every arms agreement with impunity, while the United States scrupulously adheres to treaties.
Joseph said he does not favor allowing Moscow to withdraw from the INF treaty. "That is what Russia would like," he said, noting that withdrawal would allow the Russians to continue development of prohibited missiles while avoiding the political costs of treaty withdrawal.
On Iran, Joseph said allowing Tehran to continue uranium enrichment is a "strategic debacle" that will prevent effective verification and provide the Iranians with a "breakout" nuclear capability for weapons in the future.
Asked about the INF compliance by Moscow, a State Department official told the Free Beacon: "The administration does have concerns about Russian compliance with the INF treaty. We have raised these concerns with Russia and are pressing for clear answers in an effort to resolve our concerns."
The official said the issue would not be dropped "until our concerns have been addressed."
A Russian defense adviser said in Moscow Tuesday that U.S. claims of Russian INF violations are being addressed in diplomatic channels.
The adviser, retired Strategic Forces commander Col. Gen. Victor Yesin, was asked about recent U.S. reports that Russia had tested a new long-range cruise missile, according to the state-run Interfax news agency.
Yesin, an adviser to the defense ministry, said he was not familiar with the missile but noted that Russia’s foreign ministry is working on the issue with the United States.