On March 31 – the first day of the nuclear summit in Washington, Obama stated that, taking into account violations by Moscow, the US is urging Russia to implement fully the commitments under the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles or The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed in 1987.
The treaty did not cover sea launched missiles.
«I’m the first to acknowledge that we still have unfinished business. Given its violations of the INF Treaty, we continue to call on Russia to comply fully with its obligations», the President said in his article (published by the Washington Post) devoted to the opening of nuclear summit on March 31.
On April 27, 2015, when addressing the 2015 NPT (non-proliferation treaty) Review Conference, the US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized «deep concerns regarding Russia’s clear violation of its obligations» under the INF Treaty.
In the 2014 Compliance Report, the United States for the first time published its declaration that the Russian Federation was in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.
The statement was repeated in the June 2015 compliance report, which reaffirmed the previous determination. It included an additional detail: «The United States determined the cruise missile developed by the Russian Federation meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, and as such, all missiles of that type, and all launchers of the type used to launch such a missile, are prohibited under the provisions of the INF Treaty».
The report also stated that «…the United States noted concerns about the Russian Federation’s compliance with the INF Treaty in earlier, classified versions» of the compliance report. Since the details of the violation remain classified, there has been some public uncertainty and speculation about which of several conceivable missile systems constitutes the violation.
Rose Gottemoeller, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security for the US State Department, told Russian Interfax news agency in an interview (June 2015) that «At issue is a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500-5,500 kilometers. We are confident that the Russian government is aware of the missile to which we are referring».
Some experts believe the US means a land-based test of a sea-launched cruise missile, the SS-N-30A, known as the Kalibr.
If so, there is no violation because the INF Treaty does allow the testing of sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) from ground-based platforms if they are fixed. Article VII (para 11) states, «A cruise missile which is not a missile to be used in a ground-based mode shall not be considered to be a GLCM if it is test-launched at a test site from a fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from GLCM launchers».
In its turn, Russia put forward the claims that the US violates the INF Treaty.
The list of violations includes:
- The use of target missiles with characteristics similar to those of intermediate and shorter-range ballistic missiles during missile defense tests. With its operational range (1100 km) Hera qualifies as an intermediate ballistic missile and hence violates Item 1, Article 6 of the INF Treaty.
- The deployment in Romania and Poland of Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launchers capable of firing ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) is an outright violation of the treaty.
«We have grounds to regard land-based Mk 41s as cruise missile launching systems and their deployment on the ground as a direct INF violation by the US side», the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
- US unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or armed drones such as the MQ-1 Predator, fall under the INF Treaty definition of GLCMs. Moscow claims that their operational ranges (1100 km) and lack of pilot mean that drones of this type are very similar to shorter-range cruise missiles.
It should be noted that the deployment of aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Russia’s borders has virtually nullified all the benefits of the INF Treaty from Moscow’s vantage point. US aircraft could fly from bases in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland to Russia’s largest cities in 15-20 minutes – not that much longer than the flight time of the scrapped missiles. Deploying Mk-41 launched medium-range missiles on the territory of its allies in Europe makes it possible to strike deep into the Russian territory thanks to NATO’s expansion eastward. A US mid-range weapon launched from Poland or the Czech Republic would require only a short flight time to reach beyond the Urals. It creates a serious strategic imbalance. Russia will have to respond as its officials have already warned.
Washington's ongoing efforts at creating a global ballistic missile defense system, developing the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) precision conventional weapon program along with the sanctions imposed to weaken Russia’s military potential have a continued destabilizing effect on nuclear disarmament talks. Russian officials say there is no «political logic and common sense in proposals 'to disarm' in conditions when the current US administration has been making concerted effort to undermine the defense and the military-industrial potential of Russia through its sanctions policy for a long time».
The case against Russia has been blurred by Washington’s unwillingness to provide greater detail of the alleged violations. Essentially, President Obama has so far failed to explain what actually happened. Neither he, nor any other US official has ever made precise which exactly weapons system is meant when talking about INF violations. It’s like The Hunting of the Snark. Arms control issues are too important to be a guessing game. It gives rise to a question – why does not the US go to the Special Verification Commission envisioned by the INF treaty as a forum to discuss and resolve implementation and compliance issues instead of making public statements as the nuclear summit kicks off? It is the logical forum for Russia and the United States to confidentially discuss and resolve the US compliance concerns.
If Washington cannot present compelling evidence of the Russian violation, the United States administration will find itself in an awkward position in the eyes of world public opinion. The whole thing has a certain Cold War ring. It would most certainly worsen the bilateral US-Russian relationship, which is already at a low point. It is bound to further complicate the prospects for arms control – the issue the United States says it attaches so much importance to.