INF Treaty is suspended as Moscow and Washington shift blame
Updated 07:58, 02-Feb-2019
Pavel Felgenhauer

Editor's note: Pavel Felgenhauer is a columnist with Novaya Gazeta in Moscow, and a non-resident senior research fellow with the Jamestown Foundation in Washington. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN. 

The 60-day deadline expired. 

The U.S. suspends its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on February 2 and starts the 180-day procedure of withdrawal.

For some years, Washington has been accusing Moscow of violating the INF Treaty by testing and deploying land-based long-range cruise missiles, using a modified Iskander land-mobile missile launcher fitted with a 9М729 missile known in NATO as SSC-8. 

At a press conference in Brussels on December 4, 2018, Pompeo announced the U.S. will suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty on February 2 unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance.

After Pompeo's announcement, Russian and the U.S. officials had several meetings to negotiate a solution to keep the INF, which ended in a deadlock. The U.S. demanded Russia to scrap its 9М729 missiles under supervision. Moscow, in turn, accused Washington of numerous activities allegedly violating the INF. Russian officials demonstrated a 9М729 missile hidden within a sealed container to foreign diplomats and journalists, insisting the 9М729 did not violate the INF and adamantly refused to destroy it. 

The actual number of 9М729 missiles deployed seems to be limited to two batteries or "divisions" as they are known in Russia. The overall strategic value of the deployed 9М729 missiles is insignificant since Russia has other long-range cruise missiles deployed on bombers, ships, and submarines. Moscow could scrap the relatively small number of 9М729 missiles to keep the INF afloat. 

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C front) and his deputy Alexander Grushko (R) attend a meeting of the UN Security Council on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as part of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. /VCG Photo

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C front) and his deputy Alexander Grushko (R) attend a meeting of the UN Security Council on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as part of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. /VCG Photo

Some veteran Russian experts believe the INF is essential to keep a stable nuclear balance with the United States. But the majority opinion as summarized by Russian President Vladimir Putin is: The INF is unfair, one-sided and apparently nonessential. Russia has missiles it could relatively swiftly deploy if the INF goes, as Putin had previously promised, possibly including a modified land-based version of the Kalibr-M with a range up to 5,000 kilometers. The U.S. military at present does not seem to have any missiles that they may begin deploying on land anytime soon if the INF goes.

The end of INF does not pose any serious immediate threat of a suddenly resumed medium-range missile arms race between the U.S. and Russia. The recent bickering over INF has been mostly political: Moscow was trying to undermine the Transatlantic link in the NATO by portraying the U.S. as rashly disregarding European interests by abandoning the INF for no good reason and putting the Europeans at risk of a new regional nuclear arms race. 

Washington, in turn, has been portraying the Russians as unreasonable and deceptive. 

Apparently, both sides have been partially successful in tarnishing each other. The NATO alliance has been shaken by Trump's actions including the decision to suspend the INF, but it still stands and the game is not over.

The 9M729 missile demonstrated after a briefing for military attaches and international media by the Russian Defense Ministry at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre in Kubinka, Moscow Region, January 23, 2019. /VCG Photo

The 9M729 missile demonstrated after a briefing for military attaches and international media by the Russian Defense Ministry at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre in Kubinka, Moscow Region, January 23, 2019. /VCG Photo

Russia has declared illegal in advance of the U.S. "suspension" of the INF. Indeed, the INF text has a clause that allows the U.S. or Russia to unilaterally leave the treaty after a formal notification and a six-month waiting period. 

There is a possibility that the INF is not "suspended," but still legally binding until the waiting period is over. It is also legally possible to reverse the decision to abandon the treaty during the six month waiting period. The bickering and name-calling between Russia and the West over the plight of the INF will not end on February 2 but will continue for at least six more months giving more opportunity for both sides to push blame on the other.

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