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9 Dec, 2017 21:35

If US withdraws from INF treaty, Russia will have to respond in kind – deputy FM

If US withdraws from INF treaty, Russia will have to respond in kind – deputy FM

Russia has always complied with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has said, calling the US allegations of non-compliance baseless. He added it's the US that seeks to withdraw from the agreement.

Washington used the 30th anniversary of the INF agreement, which Moscow considers one of the key elements of the international non-proliferation and arms control regimes, to once again hurl baseless charges at Russia, while threatening new sanctions that are also completely unwarranted, Ryabkov said. He was responding to recent claims made by Washington and some sections of the US media.

“We fully adhere to the [INF] agreement and have always strictly complied with it,” Ryabkov said, adding, that Moscow is “ready to further do so.” However, if the US chooses to withdraw from it, “we will be forced to give a ‘mirror response’ to that,” Ryabkov warned.

On Friday, the US State Department accused Russia of developing missile systems “that can fly to ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty.” It said further that Washington is “pursuing economic and military measures intended to induce the Russian Federation to return to compliance.”

On Saturday, Politico reported that the US administration is “levying” new sanctions on Moscow over its alleged noncompliance with the INF agreement. The new restrictions particularly involve the US Commerce Department taking measures against Russian companies which allegedly provide technologies for a new missile system developed by Moscow in violation of the agreement, the media outlet reported, citing unnamed sources within the Trump administration.

This news provoked an angry response from Moscow. Ryabkov said the US accusations are “absolutely baseless” and are not supported by any “real evidence,” just like “in [the] case of the alleged Russian interference into the US elections.” He made clear the weapon system the US is referring to “just does not exist” and the missile system index that the US media referenced in their reports is, in fact, attached to another missile system, which has a far smaller range than the one prohibited by the INF treaty.

Signed by the US and the then Soviet Union in 1987, the INF Treaty bans ground-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. Ryabkov said the US insinuations against Russia are designed to conceal Washington’s own plans to skirt the agreement and shift the blame for its potential abrogation.

“Lately, the US [officials] openly speak about their intentions to start the development of land-based cruise missile systems with a range prohibited [under the INF treaty],” Ryabkov said. He added that an increasingly vocal propaganda campaign against Russia might essentially be a “sign of the US seeking to withdraw from this agreement.”

“They [the US] are seeking a pretext, trying to create it through their own assumptions,” the deputy foreign minister said. On Friday, the State Department indeed said the US plans include “a review of military concepts and options, including options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems.” These measures, somehow, “will not violate the US' INF Treaty obligations,” it added.

In early November, American legislators allocated $58 million to a set of measures aimed at countering Russia’s alleged non-compliance with the INF treaty as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018. The measures particularly include a “research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile.”

Earlier, a number of US officials questioned the viability of the INF treaty. In July, Senator Tom Cotton, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said “the time is coming to consider whether the US should stay in the INF treaty even if Russia came back into compliance.” He also suggested sidestepping the agreement by transferring US missile technologies to American allies, particularly to Poland.

Russia has repeatedly expressed its concerns over the US actions. Earlier this week, Ryabkov said Moscow is “deeply concerned about everything that could put the US adherence to this document” at risk.

In October, President Vladimir Putin said Russia is going to “comply with its terms, providing our partners do so.” He also warned that “if they [the US] decide to abandon it, however, our response will be instant and symmetrical.”