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Russia, US engage in war of words over arms treaty at UN

Secretary Pompeo Meets with Acting U.S. Permanent Representative Cohen in New York (U.S. Department of State/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia and the United States have traded accusations at the United Nations over the abandonment of a landmark arms-control treaty, with each side accusing the other of endangering global security.

In the August 22 session, Moscow criticized what it called Washington’s “hypocrisy” regarding the U.S. testing of a missile that had previously been banned under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen, meanwhile, countered that Moscow had long ago decided to break its INF Treaty obligations and had deployed battalions of ground-launched cruise missiles “with the ability to strike critical European targets.”

The United States also demanded details of a recent mysterious explosion in northern Russia that killed five nuclear engineers and led to a temporary spike in atmospheric radiation in the region.

Russia and China called the Security Council meeting following the U.S. test of a cruise missile on August 18. The type of missile tested had been banned by the INF, which both countries withdrew from on August 2.

Russia’s request said the meeting was over “statements by U.S. officials on their plans to develop and deploy medium-range missiles.”

The Pentagon earlier this week said it had fired a missile that hit a target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. It was the first such test since the United States withdrew from the INF.

The INF banned ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

President Donald Trump on February 1 announced the United States planned to pull out of the agreement, setting off a six-month withdrawal period after accusing Russia for years of violating the pact.

At the UN session, Russia’s deputy ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, criticized what he called U.S. “hypocrisy” and said Washington “consistently and deliberately violated the INF Treaty for some time.”

He said the missile test on August 18, so quickly after the treaty’s expiration, proved that Washington had long planned to circumvent the rules.

Washington’s NATO allies joined in blaming Russia for what France’s deputy ambassador, Anne Gueguen, called “the death of the treaty.”

Gueguen warned that “it would be a dangerous step backward to engage in a new arms race.”

Stephen Hickey, Britain’s political coordinator, said Moscow’s actions “are in line with a pattern of aggression that represents a clear threat to international peace and security” and undermine its claim “that it is a responsible international partner.”

Polyansky countered by asking NATO’s European council members — Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Poland — whether they understand that by supporting the United States “step by step, you are returning to a historic situation when missiles were targeting European cities from different sites.”

“From our part, we would not be the first to make use of such measures,” he added. “However, considering that our American colleagues are clearly rubbing their hands and want to flex their muscles, then it’s possible that that situation…could happen quite soon.”

Polyansky urged the Europeans to realize “that because of the U.S.’s geopolitical ambitions we are all one step from an arms race that cannot be controlled or regulated in any way.”

Cohen, the U.S. representative, also demanded that Russia tell the Security Council what caused the August 8 explosion at a Russian military test site on the White Sea in the northern Russian region of Arkhangelsk

“What system was it, and what purpose does that system serve?” Cohen asked.

Polyansky did not mention the incident in his comments.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 21 said the accident at the military base occurred during the testing of a weapons system, but he added that he could not reveal everything about the incident for security reasons.

He said, though, that all services monitoring radiation were working and that radiation levels were normal, adding that the same applied for neighboring countries.

The accident raised concerns of atmospheric contamination after emergency officials reported a spike in background radiation levels.

Some U.S. officials have said they believe radioactive elements were involved, and many analysts have focused attention on a nuclear-powered cruise missile that Putin announced was under development last year.