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Putin orders like-for-like response after U.S. tests cruise missile

Move follows U.S. withdrawal from the Cold War-era INF Treaty, which prohibited land-based missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles.
Image: A conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile is launched by the U.S. Department of Defense during a test to inform development of future intermediate-range capabilities at San Nicolas Island
The Department of Defense launches a cruise missile during a test at San Nicolas Island, California, on Aug. 18.Scott Howe/U.S. Dept of Defense / Reuters

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday ordered a like-for-like response to a recent U.S. missile test, which he said showed that Washington aimed to deploy previously banned missiles around the world.

The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 310 miles of flight, its first such test since the demise of a landmark nuclear pact this month.

Washington formally withdrew from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on Aug. 2 after accusing Moscow of violating it, a charge dismissed by the Kremlin.

Image: Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with members of the Security Council in the Kremlin on Friday.
Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with members of the Security Council in the Kremlin on Friday.Alexei Nikolsky / AP

The pact had prohibited land-based missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

Putin told his Security Council on Friday that Russia could not stand idly by, and that U.S. talk of deploying new missiles in the Asia-Pacific region "affects our core interests as it is close to Russia's borders."

This month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was in favor of placing ground-launched intermediate-range missiles in Asia relatively soon, and Putin complained this week that the United States was now in a position to deploy its new land-based missile in Romania and Poland.

"All this leaves no doubts that the real intention of the United States (in exiting the INF pact) was to ... untie its hands to deploy previously banned missiles in different regions of the world," said Putin.

"We have never wanted, do not want and will not be drawn into a costly, economically destructive arms race. That said, in the light of unfolding circumstances, I'm ordering the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and other appropriate agencies to analyze the threat to our country posed by U.S. actions, and to take exhaustive measures to prepare a reciprocal response."

Despite his order, Putin said Russia remained open to talks with the United States aimed at restoring trust and strengthening international security.

The United States has said it has no imminent plans to deploy new land-based missiles in Europe.