The United States has rejected a Russian offer to save the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that keeps nuclear missiles out of Europe, setting the stage for Washington to withdraw from the pact next month.
Speaking a day after a meeting in Geneva between Russian and American officials, US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson said on Wednesday Moscow was refusing to allow proper inspection of a new Russian missile system that Washington says breaks the INF accord.
A six-month US withdrawal process will start from February 2.
The treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the US Senate, eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear attack at short notice.
It bans land-based missiles with a range between 500km and 5,500km.
“We weren’t able to break any new ground yesterday with Russia,” Thompson said of the January 15 meeting with Russian foreign ministry officials.
“Based on yesterday’s discussions and corresponding rhetoric today, we see no indication that Russia would choose compliance.”
The US and its NATO allies want Russia to destroy its 9M729 nuclear-capable cruise missile system, which Washington says could allow Russia to strike Europe at short notice, and comply with the INF.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was ready to save the pact but the US had not properly considered its proposals to prevent a new arms race in Europe.
But Thompson said the Russian side only offered a look at the cruise missile system, a so-called static display, which she said would not verify the true range of its warheads.
Russia says the range puts it outside the treaty and the distance they can fly is not as long as Washington alleges, meaning Moscow is fully compliant with the INF Treaty.
“Russia must come back into compliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters news agency after a meeting at NATO in which Thompson briefed allies.
But he said the alliance now needed to be prepared for the collapse of the INF Treaty and that he had asked military authorities to look into the consequences, although he declined to go into details.
European allies are worried about the deployment of US missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s while being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.
“This is part of a pattern where Russia is investing in, modernising, exercising and testing nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg told Reuters.
“I think the whole idea is for Russia to try to be able to reestablish a sphere of influence where they can try to intimidate and control some of their neighbours.”
Russia denies any such strategy and accuses US President Donald Trump of using Moscow as a pretext to quit the INF Treaty.
Meanwhile, Trump is due to visit the Pentagon on Thursday to unveil a comprehensive review of the country’s anti-missile systems, officials said.
Trump, in 2017, ordered an analysis of US missile defence technologies and how they should be adapted to keep up with changing threats.
In an executive summary of the review provided to Pentagon reporters, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) highlighted areas of concern. Top among these is the push by China and Russia to develop hypersonic missiles.
These weapons fly at many times the speed of sound and can change direction, instead of following a ballistic arc, making them much harder to intercept.
The Pentagon is looking at ways to enhance its ability to track hypersonic missiles, primarily by using existing sensors that are deployed in space.