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Putin warns against missile deployments

February 22, 2019 | Expert Insights

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that his country’s new missiles would point toward the United States if Washington expands its missile network in Europe.


The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was an arms control treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union (and its successor state, the Russian Federation). U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on 8 December 1987.

The INF Treaty eliminated all of two nations' land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and missile launchers with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometres (310–620 mi) (short medium-range) and 1,000–5,500 km (620–3,420 mi) (intermediate-range). The treaty did not apply to air or sea-launched missiles. By May 1991, the nations had eliminated 2,692 missiles, followed by 10 years of on-site verification inspections.

President Donald Trump announced on 20 October 2018 that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the treaty, citing Russian non-compliance. The Western press has been dismissive of Russian claims that U.S. missile defence in Eastern Europe, ostensibly meant to intercept missiles from Iran, presents a formidable offensive force near Russian borders.

The U.S. formally suspended the treaty on 1 February 2019, and Russia did so the following day.


Putin emphasized that Russia will act only if the United States makes the first move, but his remarks were among the strongest yet on a potential new arms race after the countries’ mutual pullout from a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty.

“Let me be loud and clear,” Putin told lawmakers gathered at a historic hall near the Kremlin for an annual speech that is akin to the U.S. State of the Union address. 

He continued with a message to Europe, saying Russia would be “forced to create and deploy types of weapons” that can be used against nations that pose “direct threats.” And in a clear reference to the United States, Putin said the Russian missiles also could be trained on places where “the centers of decision-making are located.”

Nuclear saber-rattling has become key to the Kremlin’s projection of power both at home and abroad, and could be an attempt to bring Washington to the negotiating table. Putin also used the speech to note that testing of a nuclear-capable glider and an underwater drone is now complete and that the two missiles are ready for inclusion in the country’s arsenal this year. After his speech, state-run television showed footage of the 80-foot-long drone, called Poseidon, being released underwater.

Speaking just weeks after President Trump pulled out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), Putin accused the United States of violating the terms of the treaty by deploying missile defense systems in Romania and Poland. Putin withdrew from the INF in response to the U.S. move.

Russia has also violated the treaty repeatedly, although Moscow denies this.

The treaty also irked both Washington and Moscow when it came to China. As a non-signatory, China has been free to boost its arsenal and develop weapons that the erstwhile Cold War foes could not.

Current terms dictate that Moscow and Washington have a six-month negotiation window to seek ways to resolve their differences before a full withdrawal from the treaty, although there is widespread speculation that they will not strike a new deal.

Putin said any fresh U.S. moves to place new missiles in Europe — ones that he knows “can reach Moscow within 10 to 12 minutes” — posed a serious threat and would leave Moscow with no choice but to retaliate.

Referring to the United States, Putin said, “It’s their right to think how they want. But can they count? I’m sure they can. Let them count the speed and the range of the weapons systems we are developing.”


Our assessment is that the mutual withdrawal from the INF treaty raises the risk of ballistic missile deployments in Europe by both the US and Russia. We believe that this will result in a Cold War demonstration of strength by both sides and a break down on non-proliferation and disarmament cooperation efforts which have been in play since the early 1990s. 


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