A Russian Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile system drives through Red Square in Moscow, on May 7, 2015, during Victory Day parade rehearsals. The Kremlin’s development of the short- to medium-range Novator 9M729 missile threatens the Cold War-era INF Treaty. Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
On Wednesday, November 14, 2018 – 10:54
Russia has been violating an international arms control agreement for years, the foreign minister of Lithuania has claimed, giving Moscow the ability to fire banned nuclear weapons at targets as far away as Berlin.
Linas Linkevicius told Deutsche Welle the Kremlin has been ignoring the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty for some time, leaving all of central and eastern Europe at threat from Russian missiles.
The treaty was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, banning ground-launch nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges from 500 kilometers (310 miles) to 5,500 kilometers (3,417 miles). This forced the superpower foes to remove roughly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles from the front lines, eliminating a dangerous element from the Cold War equation.
But in recent years, Vladimir Putin is believed to have overseen an expansion of short- and medium-range weaponry, likely even deploying missiles to Russia’s western frontiers and Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
The medium-range nuclear-capable Novator 9M729 missile—known to NATO as the SSC-8—is the catalyst for the impending treaty collapse. Little information about the weapon has been released by the U.S., but a 2016 State Department report alleged that its range fell within the bracket banned by the INF Treaty.
Linkevicius explained to Deutsche Welle: “We all understand that all these arms control agreements are very important. But a very important condition is that all parties must comply. So if not, something should be done in order to force them to. So far, all the calls and the criticism have had no effect.”
The minister said Lithuanians were seriously concerned about missile proliferation in Russia. “When Russians are talking about balance, about adequate responses, it’s by no means adequate because we do not have defense capabilities. And we’re not going to be aggressive. But this is really not a move for confidence building.”
“And by the way, these missiles can reach not just Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, but also Berlin,” Linkevicius added. “And they’re nuclear-capable. So I believe it’s really an escalation measure.”
Last month, President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the U.S. from the INF Treaty, citing consistent Russian non-compliance. “Russia has violated the agreement,” the president told reporters after a rally in Nevada. “They’ve been violating it for many years and I don’t know why President [Barack] Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out.”
“We’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” he added. “We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement but Russia has not unfortunately honored the agreement so we’re going to terminate the agreement, we’re going to pull out.”