BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Russia of violating a landmark Cold-War era nuclear pact and said the U.S. will suspend its obligations under the treaty in the next 60 days unless Russia comes back into compliance.
"We either bury our head in the sand, or we take common sense action in response to Russia’s flagrant disregard of the express terms of the INF treaty," Pompeo said at a news conference at NATO headquarters.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Pompeo accused Russia of cheating on the arms control agreement, also pointed to a long list of alleged Russian transgressions around the globe, including in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, as well as election meddling, and the attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in the United Kingdom and the recent incident involving Russian warships firing at Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch strait.
The move brings the U.S. a step closer towards following through on threats to withdraw from the Cold War era agreement, which prevents the U.S. and Russia from possessing any land-based cruise missiles that can strike within a 500 to 5,500 kilometers — 310 to 3,410 miles — range. The deal was primarily designed to keep ground-based nuclear weapons out of Europe.
NATO member foreign ministers issued their own full throated support of the U.S. findings, the first time all 29 member countries found Russia in "material breach" of the arms-control pact.
"We call on Russia to return urgently to full and verifiable compliance," the statement from NATO read following Tuesday’s meeting. "It is now up to Russia to preserve the INF Treaty."
The 60-day deadline was given at the request of European members to allow time for Russia to come back into compliance. Pompeo said the U.S. would welcome Russia’s return.
“We’ve talked to the Russians a great deal,” Pompeo said, citing at least 30 discussions over the course of five years. “We’re hopeful they’ll change course, but there’s been no indication to date that they have any intention of doing so.”
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, told Russian state news agency TASS in response to the announcement that "Russia scrupulously abides by the provisions of the treaty, and the U.S. side knows this."
On Saturday U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "duplicitous violation of the INF Treaty."
In 2017 White House national security officials said Russia had deployed a cruise missile in violation of the treaty. Earlier, the Obama administration accused the Russians of violating the pact by developing and testing a prohibited cruise missile. Russia has repeatedly denied that it has violated the treaty.
Pompeo said Tuesday that Russia has been flight-testing the SSC-8 cruise missile since the mid-2000s, and have been testing it at ranges that exceed what the INF treaty permits. "Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe," Pompeo said.
"Russia's reply has been consistent: deny any wrongdoing, demand more information, and issue baseless counter-accusations,” Pompeo said. He said Russia has continued to press forward and has filled multiple battalions of the SSC-8 missiles.
"If Russia admits its violations and fully and verifiably comes back into compliance, we will of course welcome that course of action,” Pompeo said. "But Russia, and Russia only, can take this step."
Failure by Russia to come back into compliance would trigger a 6-month notice period of U.S. intent to withdraw, during which the U.S. would suspend its own obligations under the INF treaty.
"The 60-day delay of the notification of the formal U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty provides little time and will be of little value unless NATO governments, along with Russia and the United States actually try to negotiate a solution," Daryl Kimball, executive director of Arms Control Association, warned.
"Failure to do so risks the start of a new missile race in Europe that will undermine European security and it make the extension of the 2010 New START agreement between Washington and Moscow, all the more vital,” Kimball said.