Earlier this month Russia suspended a Cold War-era treaty regulating nuclear missiles after the US accused Moscow of violating it. The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty prevented either Russia or the US from testing, owning and producing ground-to-air nuclear missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres. This has led to an increase in tensions between both countries that is somewhat reminiscent of the cold war and even more specifically; the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Washington has accused Moscow of violating the treaty because the latest Russian cruise missile, the Novator 9M729, or SSC-8 according to NATO, does not adhere to the strict INF standards. Russia’s response was to accuse the US of creating a situation wherein they could simply leave the treaty. Essentially claiming that they already planned to leave and were merely looking for justification.
According to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the Russian cruise missile does in fact violate the treaty as it has been tested on distances greater than 500 kilometres. But, Russia’s deputy foreign minister has denied this and claimed the US has violated the treaty with its development of the MK41 land based vertical launch system and advanced armed drones.
In a speech given earlier this week to Russia’s political elite, Russian president Vladimir Putin stated, “It’s their right to think how they want, but can they count? I’m sure they can. Let them count the speed and range of the weapons systems we are developing”. This particular statement was directed at the US amid increasing tensions between the two powers.
The current situation is eerily similar to the one both countries found themselves in prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Moscow has said that if the US is looking to place nuclear missiles in Europe, which would shorten the time it took to reach Russian territory by 10 to 12 minutes. Putin would employ a variety of options available to it, such as deploying nuclear missiles to a friendly country closer to the US. He also stated that a new submarine would be launched this year called the ‘Poseidon’, which would carry a drone capable of performing a nuclear strike.
The Russian president’s strategy appears to be one focused on matching whatever the US does. If the US pulls out, they’ll do the same. If they develop banned missiles, so will Russia.
Putin has been quoted as stating, “What would be our response? A very simple one: in that case, we will do the same.” Copying the US puts Russia in a situation where they won’t have to cede anything, whilst also remaining seemingly blameless as they haven’t been trying to ‘one-up’ Washington.
The rhetoric being used between the two realist presidents is certainly something to be concerned about. With Russia annexing Crimea and the accusations it interfered with the 2016 US elections, its relationship with the US and the West is being shaken up considerably. And this ‘showdown’ may well lead to an arms race should no middle ground be found.
But, if an arms race is to be averted its imperative both countries come to the table willing and wanting to make peace. Just like US president Ronald Regan and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev did when they first signed the INF treaty in 1987.
Other countries like China and Germany are also pushing for an agreement to be made and for both to continue to remain signatories of the treaty. But, the way in which both sides handle themselves in the near future will most likely set the scene for years to come, which is why dialogue is so important.