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Putin officially suspends Russia’s participation in INF Treaty with US

Vladimir Putin's Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. (Kremlin/Released)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Kremlin says President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree suspending Russia’s participation in a key Cold War-era nuclear arms-control agreement with the United States.

The Russian move, announced on March 4, mirrored a step by the United States, which accuses Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and launched a six-month process of withdrawal from the pact in early February.

The bilateral INF Treaty, the first of its kind to eliminate an entire class of missiles, banned both countries from developing, producing, and deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

But Washington and NATO have repeatedly accused Moscow of violating the accord by developing the 9M729 cruise missile, also known as the SSC-8.

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Russia has denied that, and accused the United States of breaking the accord itself, allegations rejected by Washington.

According to the text of his decree placed on the Kremlin’s website, Putin ordered the INF Treaty be suspended until Washington stops violating the accord and told the Foreign Ministry to inform signatories to the accord of Moscow’s move.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia should return to compliance with the INF Treaty, which he called a “cornerstone for European security for decades.”

The bilateral INF Treaty, the first of its kind to eliminate an entire class of missiles, banned both countries from developing, producing, and deploying ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Washington and NATO have repeatedly accused Moscow of violating the accord by developing the 9M729 cruise missile, also known as the SSC-8.

Moscow has accused the United States in turn that it wanted to abandon the pact so it can start a new arms race.

The 9M729 missiles that Russia has deployed were in “clear and blatant violation” of the INF Treaty, Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

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“We will take our time, we will be measured, we will be united and coordinated,” he said of NATO’s response, adding that the Western military alliance has no “intention of deploying new ground-launched nuclear weapons in Europe.”

Putin’s order came as U.S. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s General Staff, met in Vienna.

Calling the talks “constructive,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the two generals had discussed issues related to missile defense and arms-control treaties.

Gerasimov and Dunford also exchanged views on the situation in Syria, and stressed the importance of “continued interaction on incident prevention,” it said.

Relations between the United States and Russia are strained over a variety of other issues, including Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, and its involvement in Syria’s civil war.

Russia has provided crucial support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s seven-year civil war, while the United States supports rebel groups.

However, the two countries’ militaries have warned each other of planned air operations in Syria to avoid contact, and Dunford and Gerasimov have met periodically as the sides attempted to ease tensions and restore communications. Their previous meeting took place in June.

Besides Syria, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs said that Dunford and Gerasimov “exchanged views on the state of U.S.-Russia military relations and the current international security situation in Europe and other key topics.”

The two military leaders also discussed “efforts to improve operational safety and strategic stability between the U.S. and Russian militaries,” the spokesman, Colonel Patrick Ryder, said in a statement.

He added that both generals “recognize the importance of maintaining regular communication to avoid miscalculation and to promote transparency and deconfliction in areas where our militaries are operating in close proximity.”

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