Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to “target the US” if it deployed missiles in Europe following the United States’ decision to suspend Moscow’s compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
Inked at the height of the Cold War back in 1987, the accord bans the U.S. and Russia from using medium- and short-range missiles.
Putin’s remarks came during a speech to the Russian parliament on Wednesday. The Russian leader lambasted the U.S. for scrapping the treaty and accused it of getting “carried away by the idea of their exceptional nature and superiority above the rest of the world.”
Putin also said that Russia would develop weapons of its own that would challenge the U.S. “Let them calculate the range, speed of our weapon systems in development. This is all we are asking for,” he said, adding, “Let them first calculate and only then take decisions that might bring about additional serious threats for our country [Russia], and certainly will lead to a response from Russia, whose safety will be guaranteed.”
Putin clarified, however, that Moscow would not seek direct warfare with the U.S. despite his accusations that Washington ignores Russia’s “legitimate interests” and decried President Trump’s promotion of “anti-Russian activities.”
“We are not interested in confrontation and do not seek it,” Putin said.
The U.S. had announced in early February that it would suspend compliance with the INF treaty after compiling evidence that Russia had flagrantly violated the treaty on a consistent basis. According to the U.S., Russia’s new SSC-9 rocket falls within the 500-5,500km (310-3,400 miles) range outlawed by the INF.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. has given Russia 60 days to resume honoring the treaty or the U.S. would pull out of the accords entirely.
“Russia has not taken the necessary steps to return to compliance over the last 60 days,” said Pompeo. “It remains in material breach of its obligations not to produce, possess, or flight-test a ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile system with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.”
The U.S. had signed the deal with Russia in 1987 amid concerns that the Soviet SS-20 rocket could devastate Europe. Within five years, 2,100 rockets were destroyed under the terms of the INF, which played a crucial part in ensuring that Europe remained free of nuclear weapons until today.
Following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the U.S. would abandon the treaty, Putin had vowed to develop a whole new class of weapons, including the sea-based Kalibr missile and hypersonic rockets. Putin said, however, that his country did not intend to launch a new arms race with the U.S. and would refrain from deploying medium-range missiles unless the U.S. did first.
“Our American partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the treaty, and we are suspending it too,” said Putin. “All of our proposals in this sphere, as before, remain on the table, the doors for talks are open.”