US Missile-Testing Plans Prove Washington Sought INF Breakdown

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The Pentagon plans to begin flight tests this year of two types of missiles that have been banned for more than 30 years by a treaty from which both the United States and Russian Federation are expected to withdraw in August, defense officials said Wednesday.

The testing, production and deployment of missiles with those ranges is prohibited by the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The two countries signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which eventually reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons in existence by about 80%.

The INF Treaty, which was settled by then-US President Ronald Regan and then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ended the medium-range missile arsenals and lessen their potential to launch a nuclear strike at a short notice. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally began the treaty-sanctioned six-month withdrawal period of February 2.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated Moscow's position on the INF, explaining that Russia was forced to suspend its participation in the Treaty in response to the United States actions "when we entered the phase of harsh disagreements with the Americans on the INF".

By moving forward with these missile projects, the Pentagon is not excluding the possibility that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty could still survive, although it likely will be terminated in August.

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The INF Treaty required the parties to dismantle the ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles of ranges between 500 to 5,500 miles.

More than five decades on, tensions are rising again over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe.

"We're going to test a ground-launched cruise missile in August", a senior defense official, who declined to be named, was quoted by Reuters as saying on March 13, according to RFE/RL.

Arms control advocates and Democrats in Congress have questioned the wisdom of leaving the INF treaty, while accepting US allegations that Russian Federation is violating it by deploying a cruise missile that can target American allies in Europe. NATO is now studying the implications of the demise of the INF treaty and possible military responses. "On the contrary, we demonstrated to all, using arguments and proof, that it is precisely the United States that became the source of dismantling this document since it in fact made breaches (of this treaty)", the Kremlin spokesman said. Moscow denies flouting the accord and has accused Washington of breaking the accord itself, allegations rejected by the United States.

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