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US says Russia must scrap or modify Novator missile system to comply with INF

9M317 surface-to-air missile on the Buk-M2 quadruple launcher at 2007 MAKS Airshow. (Yuriy Lapitskiy/Flickr)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia must scrap its Novator 9M729 missile systems and launchers or reduce their range to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and prevent a U.S. withdrawal from the Cold War-era pact, U.S. officials say.

Andrea Thompson, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, on December 6 told reporters on a teleconference call that the weapons system has a range that is not in compliance with the 1987 INF pact.

She added that Moscow must “rid the system, rid the launcher, or change the system so it doesn’t exceed the range” to bring Russia back “to full and verifiable compliance.”

“The ball’s in Russia’s court. We can’t do that for them. They have to take the initiative,” she added.

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President Donald Trump announced in October that the United States would abandon the INF, citing alleged Russian violation and concerns that the bilateral treaty binds Washington to restrictions while leaving nuclear-armed countries that are not signatories, such as China, free to develop and deploy the missiles.

U.S. officials have said Russia’s deployment of the 9M729, also known as the SSC-8, breaches the ban on ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

On December 4, the United States said it would suspend its obligations under the treaty if Moscow did not return to compliance within two months.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision after NATO allies meeting in Brussels “strongly” supported U.S. accusations that Russia violated the terms of the INF.

“During this 60 days, we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we’ll see what happens during this 60-day period,” Pompeo said.

Russian officials have repeatedly dismissed such demands, and President Vladimir Putin gave no indication that Russia plans to abandon the 9M729, which it claims does not violate the treaty.

Moscow has alleged that some elements of U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe were in violation of the treaty, which Washington denies.

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The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, who was on the briefing call with Thompson, insisted that a U.S. withdrawal from the INF did not mean “we are walking away from arms control.”

“We are doing this to preserve the viability and integrity of arms control agreements more broadly,” he said.

“We remain committed to arms control, but we need a reliable partner and do not have one in Russia on INF, or for that matter on other treaties that it’s violating.”

He said “one can only surmise” that Moscow is attempting to “somehow seek an advantage” with the missile – “a little bit like violations we’re seeing with other treaties, whether it’s the Open Skies Treaty or whether it’s the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

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