Russian President Vladimir Putin formally suspended a decisive nuclear arms control treaty on Wednesday, months after the United States also freed itself from the pact.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987, banned an entire class of nuclear weapons.
It required the U.S. and the former Soviet Union to destroy their nuclear ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with “intermediate” range capabilities between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. Production, testing and deployment of the weapons was banned.
Since the Cold War, the INF Treaty has been a pivotal part of arms control and global security.
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U.S. pulls out of treaty
In February, the U.S. announced that it would withdraw from the deal.
The decision left Russia with a six-month deadline to comply with the treaty before the withdrawal becomes official on Aug. 2.
U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Russia for the pact fizzling out, claiming Russia violated the treaty by developing a “prohibited” missile that would jeopardize national security.
U.S. officials believe the ground-fired missile in Russia’s grasp could give them the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe without notice.
Russia has denied the claim, saying the missile’s range falls outside the treaty’s limits.
But shortly after Trump removed the U.S. from the pact, Putin followed suit, suspending Russia’s obligations. Russia turned the tables on the U.S., accusing the Americans of being the ones who are defying the treaty with unlawful missiles.
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U.S.-Russia relationship murky
The U.S.’s withdrawal came as no surprise following years of dispute over Russia’s compliance with the treaty.
It did, however, spark further fear about a deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship.
Despite a tongue-in-cheek joke at last week’s G20 summit in Japan, anxieties over U.S. claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election still linger.
Trump publicly accepted Putin’s denial of interference in the most recent U.S. presidential election at a 2018 meeting in Helsinki, Finland.
At this year’s G20, their first meeting since then, Trump said he enjoys a “very, very good relationship” with Putin.
While the Russian president has been critical of U.S. policies in the past, he has stayed away from denouncing Trump. In a recent interview just prior to the G20 summit, Putin said the U.S.-Russia relationship is getting “worse and worse.”
He pointed to U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia as a factor.
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Anxieties about what’s next
As the relationship continues to strain, analysts worry about the impact the demise of the INF Treaty will have on arms control. Some claim its termination could spark a new arms race.
Also set to expire soon is the New Start treaty. The treaty, signed in 2010, limits the number of nuclear weapons the U.S. and Russia can have deployed at one time. If Moscow and Washington don’t come to an agreement on an extension, the law could die in 2021.
“And that’s happening at a time when the relationship with Russia shows no sign of getting calmer.”
—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters