This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russia is unlikely to meet U.S. demands for more verification on a missile system Washington says has violated a key Cold War treaty, the lead U.S. negotiator on arms control issues said.
Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson downplayed the meetings that U.S. and Russian officials had last week in Geneva about the dispute, which has pushed the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to the brink of collapse.
And she downplayed an unusual public presentation made a day earlier in Moscow, in which Russian defense officials displayed elements of the disputed missile system, known as the 9M729 or SSC-8.
The Geneva talks weren’t “the normal bluster, propaganda, the kind of dramatics that we associate with some of these meetings,” Thompson said in a private briefing on January 24.
“But as I said before, we didn’t break any new ground. There was no new information. The Russians acknowledged having the system but continued to say in their talking points that it didn’t violate the INF Treaty despite showing them, repeated times, the intelligence, and information,” she said.
Thompson’s remarks were made nine days before a February 2 deadline, when the United States has said it will formally withdraw from the treaty, and suspend its obligations.
“I’m not particularly optimistic” that Russia will meet U.S. demands to show it is complying with the treaty, she told reporters.
The 1987 treaty prohibits the two countries from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The agreement was the first of its kind to eliminate an entire class of missiles and is widely seen as a cornerstone of arms control stability, in Europe and elsewhere.
On January 23, Russian officials held a public briefing for reporters and foreign diplomats in Moscow, where they showed missile tubes and diagrams of the missile in question — part of an effort to push back against the U.S. claims.
Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky, the chief of the military’s missile and artillery forces, said the missile has a maximum range of 480 kilometers.
“The distance was confirmed during strategic command and staff exercises” in 2017, he said. “Russia has observed and continues to strictly observe the points of the treaty and does not allow any violations.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later accused U.S. officials of rebuffing Russian invitations to hold more talks on the question, something that Thompson disputed.
“While seeking an uncontrolled arms buildup, Washington is actually trying to take down one of the major pillars of current global stability, and this could result in the most painful repercussions for global security,” Zakharova was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency. “It is not late yet for our American partners to work out a responsible attitude to the INF Treaty.”
Thompson said U.S. officials have proposed discussing a wider range of arms control issues on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting scheduled in Beijing next week.
The United States first publicly accused Moscow of violating the INF Treaty in 2014. After several years of fruitless talks, Washington began stepping up its rhetoric in late 2017, publicly identifying the missile in question and asserting that Russia had moved beyond testing and had begun deploying the systems.
“These are manned, equipped battalions now deployed in the field,” Thompson said.
Late last year, Washington began providing NATO members and other allies with more detailed, classified satellite and telemetry data, as part of the effort to build support for its accusations.
Thompson said that in addition to providing detailed information on the dates and locations of the missile’s testing and deployment, U.S. officials had also given Russian counterparts a plan for a “verifiable” test of the missile’s range.
Moscow, however, countered with its own proposal, which she said wasn’t realistic because Russian officials were in charge of all aspects of such a test.
“When you go and select the missile and you select the fuel and you control all of those parameters, characteristics, you are controlling the outcome of the test,” she said.