Russia signals willingness to save INF treaty as it remains in 'material breach'
GENEVA, Switzerland -- Russia's position on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) appeared to weaken Wednesday (January 16) as its top diplomat expressed the Kremlin's willingness to work toward salvaging the deal.
Moscow was ready to work with Washington to save a crucial arms control treaty, calling on Europe to help in faltering talks, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
"We are still ready to work to save the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty," Lavrov told reporters.
US and Russian diplomats met in Geneva amid widespread concern over the fate of the agreement, after the US administration said in October it would pull out of the deal unless Russia lived up to its terms.
Public concern over Russian non-compliance dates back to 2014, when the US State Department said in an annual report that "the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty", and that the United States had raised these concerns with Moscow in 2013.
The same reports for 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 repeated the claim.
The United States revealed in early 2017 that a new Russian ground-launched cruise missile known variously as the SSC-8 or the 9M729 breaches the pact. The weapon has a range of 2,500km, falling within the prohibited range, the Economist reported last year.
Russia has secretly deployed two operational battalions, each with about 36 missiles, with at least one situated in Russia's central military district, putting it in range of targets in Europe, according to the US administration.
Russia has continually denied violating the agreement, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his facetious approach towards nuclear security.
However, the recent statements by Lavrov may signal Russia's willingness to admit its repeated and continual violations of the treaty.
Meanwhile, at the same meeting in Geneva, US officials reasserted that Russia remains "in material breach" of the INF treaty Tuesday (January 15), raising the prospect that Washington will follow through on threats to ditch the agreement over violations by Moscow.
American negotiators confirmed Washington's intention to exit the treaty starting February 2, said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.
"The meeting was disappointing as it is clear Russia continues to be in material breach of the Treaty and did not come prepared to explain how it plans to return to full and verifiable compliance," US Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson said in a statement.
"Our message was clear: Russia must destroy its noncompliant missile system," she added.
Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would withdraw within 60 days from the Cold War treaty limiting mid-range nuclear arms if Russia does not dismantle missiles that the United States claims breach the deal.
Putin responded to the US hard line by threatening to develop more nuclear missiles banned under the treaty.
The landmark treaty was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 and led to the elimination of almost 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles.
It put an end to a mini-arms race in the 1980s triggered by the Soviet Union's deployment of SS-20 nuclear missiles targeting Western European capitals.