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Russia Pulls Out OF INF Treaty In Response To U.S. Move


The clock is ticking on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a 1987 arms control agreement that symbolized the end of the Cold War. The Trump administration announced last week it is pulling out of the deal, which means the whole thing dissolves in six months. How is Russia responding to this? NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: On Saturday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited his two most trusted ministers to a Kremlin meeting staged for TV.



KIM: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. has been violating the INF treaty since 1999.


SERGEY LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that's why Russia has to start developing weapons previously banned by the treaty - intermediate-range, land-based missiles.


SERGEI SHOIGU: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Putin's response was instant and decisive.


PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Our response will be symmetrical," Putin said. "If our American partners suspend their participation in the INF treaty, so will we. And if they start working on new weapons, so will we." The performance in the Kremlin itself was a response to comments made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a day earlier in Washington.


MIKE POMPEO: To this day, Russia remains in material breach of its treaty obligations not to produce, possess or flight test a ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile system with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

KIM: As a result, Pompeo said, the U.S. was giving Russia a six-months notice. With Putin following suit, it now looks like it's just a matter of time before the INF treaty will lose its effect. Aleksandr Golts, a defense analyst in Moscow, calls the consequences for Russia a strategic catastrophe.

ALEKSANDR GOLTS: (Through interpreter) Sooner or later, Russia will find itself in the same situation it was in at the beginning of the 1980s, namely in the range of missiles that can hit major Russian population centers within a flight time of six to eight minutes.

KIM: What he means is if the U.S. goes back to deploying medium-range missiles in Europe, Russian leaders will have much less time to decide if they're really under attack and may be tempted to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

GOLTS: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Golts says Putin is not in a place where he wants to be and thought he could get away with some minor violations without the U.S. tearing up the entire agreement. After all, the Obama administration first accused Russia of violating the INF treaty with the testing of a new missile. But just weeks after Donald Trump's inauguration, the Pentagon said Russia had actually deployed that weapon. Then John Bolton was appointed Trump's national security adviser. And in October, he came to Moscow to deliver a message to Putin.


JOHN BOLTON: The problem is there are Russian INF-violated missiles in Europe now. The threat is not American withdrawal from the INF treaty. The threat is the Russian missiles already deployed.

KIM: Bolton takes pride in ending another arms control agreement, the ABM treaty, when he served in the Bush administration. After the INF treaty runs its course in August, only one major nuclear weapons treaty will still bind the U.S. and Russia. It's set to expire in two years, and talks to renew it have not yet begun. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEITH KENNIFF'S "MANY THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim
Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
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