In a move that seems timed more or less entirely to add to tensions with Russia, the Obama Administration has announced that it sent a letter to Russia accusing them of violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
The issue is a fairly old one, centering on tests Russia did of cruise missiles back in 2008. In January of this year, the US finally informed NATO that they were “conducting a review” of the tests, and it was only today that they finally decided the six-year-old tests were a “violation.”
The 1987 INF Treaty saw both the US and Soviet Union destroy a number of intermediate-range cruise missiles, both nuclear and conventional. Both sides have sought to sidestep the restrictions in different ways, with the US focusing on submarine-launched missiles as a replacement for ground-based ones.
When President George W. Bush began pushing for missile defense systems in Eastern Europe in the middle of last decade, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials suggested Russia could withdraw from the INF over the deployments, and the tests of the cruise missiles in 2008 appear to have been preparation for such a move.
Ultimately, Russia did not withdraw from the INF, and rather developed a multi-stage missile that attempted to comply with the letter of the treaty, as with the American sub-launched missiles, while adding capabilities meant to be banned.
That the US is just happening to get around to complaining about the 2008 tests now, in the middle of a diplomatic row over Ukraine, suggests officials are just trying to make matters worse.
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