Russia Stonewalls U.S. on Charges of Nuclear Missile Treaty Breach

Moscow turns tables, accuses U.S. of INF treaty violations

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin / AP

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Russia is refusing to discuss U.S. charges that Moscow violated the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty by building a cruise missile banned under the accord, according to U.S. officials.

Additionally, Moscow in talks held last week accused the United States of INF treaty violations for using target missiles in missile defense tests and deploying armed drones—even though neither weapon is covered by the treaty, according to officials familiar with the talks.

The accusations were traded during five hours of talks in Moscow Sept. 11 led by Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

State Department spokesmen declined to provide details of the failed discussions.

However, the department acknowledged in a brief statement that the talks did not resolve U.S. concerns about the treaty breach.

“Although the U.S. concerns were not assuaged in this meeting, the parties had a useful exchange of views,” the State Department said in the statement. “They agreed to continue the dialogue.”

The INF violation, confirmed publicly by the State Department in July, is a setback for the Obama administration’s arms-control centered national security agenda. Russian non-compliance with the arms treaty also undermines President Obama’s plan to completely eliminate nuclear weapons—a position advocated by his defense secretary, Chuck Hagel.

In contrast to the U.S. silence, a Russian official involved in the talks publicly rejected the U.S. treaty violation charges that were raised during the closed-door meetings.

Mikhail Ulyanov, a Russian Foreign Ministry arms control official, told state-run media that the United States failed to answer questions about the INF treaty implementation problem.

“We cannot view the answers given by the American side as sufficiently satisfactory,” Ulyanov told Interfax. “Our concerns remain in place.”

Ulyanov then stated that the United States was violating the Reagan-era arms agreement that bans ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,400 miles.

Ulyanov said the United States was guilty of “at least improper implementation of the treaty, to put it mildly.”

The Russian official listed what he asserted were three U.S. INF violations: U.S. target missiles used to simulate intermediate- and short-range missiles; unmanned aerial attack drones; and the planned deployment in Romania of a ground-launched version of the Navy’s SM-3 missile defense interceptor.

“Our reading of the relevant provisions of the treaty leads us to believe that this is in fact a violation, according to a number of parameters,” Ulyanov said of the target missiles and drones. “They are fully covered by the definition of land-based cruise missiles.”

As for the SM-3s in Romania, “these launch systems, in our view, are subject to the INF Treaty and, therefore, they are prohibited,” he said.

U.S. officials insisted during the talks that the SM-3s are to be used solely for missile defense interceptors that are not prohibited by the INF treaty.

Ulyanov dismissed U.S. officials’ complaints about the new cruise missile quoting American officials as asserting “we allegedly used a land-based cruise missile at a range of over 500 km, which is prohibited by the treaty.”

“They failed to clearly define and back up this complaint,” he said. “Everything is very thin. We do not admit that we violated anything.”

Ulyanov demanded that the United States provide more details on the evidence for a treaty breach.

Moscow in the past used a similar tactic during arms control talks as a means to learn about U.S. intelligence on Russian treaty violations—as a way to prevent future discoveries of the breaches in arms testing and development, according to former U.S. arms control verification officials.

U.S. officials said the R-500 cruise missile is the system that has been judged to violate the INF treaty.

Gottemoeller, in a speech in August, called Russia’s treaty-violating cruise missile “a serious threat to strategic stability.”

The ground-launched cruise missile “is the one about which we have determined is a Russian [treaty] violation,” Gottemoeller told a U.S. Strategic Command conference on nuclear deterrence.

Former Pentagon strategic specialist Mark Schneider said the Russians are wrong in alleging that the United Stats violated the treaty.

“The Russian allegations against the U.S. are completely bogus,” Schneider said. “The INF Treaty does not ban target missiles, which are not weapons delivery vehicles.”

“Ronald Reagan did not negotiate a treaty that banned missile defense testing,” he added. “Armed drones are not cruise missile under the INF Treaty.”

In fact, the first post-INF treaty missile-firing drone was a Russian aircraft displayed at an arms show in 1998, he said.

As for U.S. missile defense interceptors in Romania, “they are not subject to the INF treaty, Schneider said.

“Those who say that, they are ignoring the facts and selectively quoting one sentence of the INF Treaty launcher definition, conveniently excluding the part that destroys the argument that they make,” he said.

Russia’s cruise missile violation is “not just an isolated treaty violation,” he said, noting that Russian press reports have indicated Moscow has two or three cruise missiles banned under INF provisions.

Schneider said the administration compliance policy is very weak and its diplomacy will not be effective.

“Is arms control dead? I don’t think so because it is being pursued as part of an ideological agenda,” he said. “Ideology always trumps reality.”

Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation from 2002 to 2009, said Russia’s refusal to admit the violation does not indicate Moscow is going to withdraw from the INF treaty.

“Given the amount of time it took the administration to reach a judgment of violation, to raise it with Russia, and to make the violation public, Russia has every reason to decide that there is no need for them to withdraw, especially since the U.S. response to the violation will be constrained by our continued obligations under the treaty,” she said.

DeSutter called the violation “militarily significant” because “NATO and the U.S. have been disarming while Russia has been arming, placing false reliance on the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ with Russia.”

The failure of the Russians to reverse the violation likely will signal an end to further arms talks or at least a more realistic approach, she said.

However, DeSutter said she fears the empty Russian accusations of U.S. noncompliance with the INF treaty will be used to provide further sensitive information to the Russians that could be used against the defenses and shared with states such as Iran and Syria.

The Obama administration, after a delay of nearly six year, publicly confirmed in July that Russia’s development of a new cruise missile violated the INF treaty.

The treaty violation talks were held amid the most tense relations between Moscow and Washington since the Cold War as a result of the Russian military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its backing for pro-Moscow rebels in their low-level conflict in seeking to destabilize eastern Ukraine.

Despite the Russian aggression, Gottemoeller said President Obama continues to pursue an additional one-third reduction in nuclear warheads in talks with the Russians—beyond the 1,550 warheads called for under the 2010 New START arms treaty.

House Republicans have accused the administration of covering up the INF violation, which has been known since around 2008, in order to win Senate ratification of New START and to seek further arms accords with the Russians.

Disclosure of the INF violation in July has severely diminished the prospect of further arms agreements.

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