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Putin says Russia also suspending key nuclear arms treaty after U.S. move to withdraw

President Donald Trump on Friday announced the U.S. intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, accusing Russia of violating the agreement "with impunity."
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Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Saturday that his country will suspend a key Cold War-era missile treaty with the United States following the Trump administration's move to withdraw a day earlier.

"We will respond quid pro quo," Putin said during a televised meeting with foreign and defense ministers. "Our American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well."

Putin said Russia will start work on creating new missiles, including hypersonic ones, and told ministers not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington, accusing the U.S. of being slow to respond to such moves.

Putin said that Russia will not increase its military budget for the new weapons and it won't deploy its weapons in Europe and other regions unless the United States does so.

"We must not and will not be drawn into a costly arms race," he said.

President Donald Trump said Friday that the U.S. would be pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, blaming Russia for breaching the pact.

"We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other," Trump said in a statement.

Moscow has denied the allegations while accusing Washington of violating the treaty and calling for inspections of U.S. arms.

The 1987 treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, bans deployment and required the destruction of ground-based missiles with a range of between 310 to 3,410 miles. The pact mitigated weapons that had become a point of crisis during the Cold War and has been viewed for decades as a model for arms control agreements between major powers.

The U.S. has claimed since 2014 that Russia was violating the deal, and senior Trump administration officials said on Friday they had tried 35 times through diplomatic engagements to bring Russia back into compliance.

"We provided Russia an ample window of time to mend its ways and for Russia to honor its commitment," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday. "Tomorrow that time runs out."

For Trump, who has repeatedly vexed America's NATO allies with his threats to pull out of the alliance and his demands that members spend more on defense, the decision marked a rare point of agreement. The alliance issued a statement declaring that "allies fully support this action."

"We urge Russia to use the remaining six months to return to full and verifiable compliance to preserve the INF Treaty," said NATO, formed by Western nations in the wake of World War II as a hedge against Soviet military power in Europe.

Non-proliferation experts have warned that without the deal, the U.S. and Russia will have free rein to deploy land-based missiles, raising fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown. In the 1980s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent.

Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

Thomas Countryman, a veteran U.S. diplomat who now chairs the Arms Control Association, said that "without the treaty, there is a serious risk of a new intermediate-range, ground-based missile arms race in Europe and beyond."

But senior officials said that despite pulling out, the U.S. didn't plan to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe and said the U.S. would continue to work with Russia to prevent such a competition.

Trump had signaled in October that he planned to leave the deal, as U.S. diplomats sought to use that threat to coerce Russia into changing course and complying.

Under the terms of the agreement, the withdrawal is not immediate: The U.S. will "suspend" its obligations starting Saturday but the withdrawal won't be complete until the expiration of a six-month window that ends in August.

That window has other nations urging both parties to salvage the deal.

China's foreign ministry warned Saturday that the U.S. pulling out could trigger "negative consequences" and called on both American and Russian officials "to properly resolve differences through constructive dialogue."

For the U.S., the proliferation of intermediate-range missiles has become a growing concern because of China, which is not party to the treaty and not banned from deploying them. Senior U.S. officials said that China now has more than 1,000 of the missiles.

The demise of the deal could free the U.S. military to try to match China's capabilities in a bid to prevent the Asian power from gaining a significant military advantage. Still, U.S. officials describing the rationale behind Trump's decision insisted it was singularly about the threat from Russia, not China.