The Trump administration is imposing new sanctions on Russia for violating a Cold War-era nuclear arms treaty by deploying a banned cruise missile.
The decision, outlined to reporters on Friday, came after an intensive review from the National Security Council (NSC), and the goal is to signal to Russia the seriousness of the treaty by working to "change the economic calculus" of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, an administration official told Politico. The sanctions involve the Department of Commerce punishing Russian companies for helping develop the missile that violates the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The treaty banned missiles capable of traveling 500 to 5,000 kilometers from being near Europe's borders. At that distance, these weapons would provide little notice in the case of an attack, and they are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The NSC determined it is still in America's interest to comply with the treaty and have the Department of Defense begin research and development on a U.S. version of the missile that the administration official says would not violate the accord.
The Trump administration reported the Novator 9M729 missile being deployed in February; the missile was designed by NATO as the SSC-8.
The Obama administration accused Russia in 2014 of violating the treaty President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed in 1987. Russia has both denied that it violated the treaty and accused the U.S. of violating it with its missile interceptors, which the U.S. maintains do not violate the treaty.
The new research from the Department of Defense will evaluate the design options for a new ground-launched nuclear cruise missile allowed under the INF Treaty, the official told Politico.
Ahead of the Special Verification Commission's (SVC) proposed meeting to discuss concrete solutions to return to full compliance, executive director Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association expressed concern with the Pentagon going forward with the designs for the new U.S. missile.
"The INF Treaty does not prohibit research or development, but going down this road sets the stage for Washington to violate the agreement at some point and it takes the focus off of Russia’s INF violation," Kimball, said in a statement to Politico. "Rather than persuading Russia to return to compliance, this action is more likely to give Moscow an excuse to continue on its current course."
"Both sides must recommit to resolve this issue and use the existing treaty compliance resolution mechanism, the SVC, to evaluate competing technical claims and ultimately to remove from deployment any INF systems in Russia that do not comply with the treaty," Kimball said.
The administration official said they were not crossing any threshold by beginning research and enforcing sanctions on Russia for violating the INF Treaty.
"We are not to cross any thresholds," the U.S. official said.