In December 2018, the US (following up on President Trump’s decision in October) announced suspension of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 60 days, unless Russia returns to “full and verifiable compliance.”
Russia-US discussions in Geneva (January 15) to salvage the treaty were unsuccessful, with each side claiming compliance with the treaty and alleging violations by the other. Russia said it had offered to the US an inspection of the offending Russian missiles, if the latter permitted Russian inspection of its missiles in Poland and Romania. The US apparently rejected the Russian offer as falling short of INF compliance requirements and, in turn, demanded a verified destruction of the Russian systems, which the Russians rejected as an “unacceptable ultimatum”.
Eventually, on February 2, when the US deadline ended, President Putin announced a “symmetrical” response: Russian suspension of participation in the INF Treaty and commencement of research, development and design work on intermediate-range systems. In a televised discussion with the Russian Foreign and Defence Ministers, he said that, even if Russia develops such systems, it will not deploy them either in Europe or anywhere else in the world, except in response to US deployment of such weapons. He asserted that Russia would not let itself be drawn into an expensive arms race and hence directed that research and development of new systems should be within the existing defence budget.
The other policy decision announced during the discussion was that Russia would no longer put forward arms control initiatives, since all its initiatives are routinely rebuffed. All existing proposals would remain on the table, but would be taken up only if interlocutors wish to commence discussion on them.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini was quoted as saying that Europe benefits from the INF Treaty and expressing the hope that it could still be preserved. When asked about this, the Russian MFA spokeswoman said derisively that it is a “wonderful statement”, but “nobody listens to Europe in the US”. She pointed to the fact that European countries’ votes in the UN General Assembly on the Russian resolution for preservation of the INF Treaty did not reflect this position. In this context, it is also pertinent to recall the NATO statement in December 2018, endorsing US withdrawal from the INF Treaty (Review, 12/18), though some of NATO’s European members had expressed different views earlier (Review, 10/18).
January 30, 2019