Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said recently in a meeting with his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and, Defense minister Sergei Shoigu in the Kremlin
Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said recently in a meeting with his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and, Defense minister Sergei Shoigu in the Kremlin.
President Donald Trump accused Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Trump said in a statement that the U.S. will “move forward” with developing its own military response options to Russia’s new land-based cruise missiles that could target Western Europe.
Moscow has strongly denied any breaches and accused Washington of making false accusations in order to justify its pullout.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in explaining that Washington on Saturday formally suspended its treaty obligations, said in a statement that Russia’s “continued noncompliance has jeopardized the United States’ supreme interests.” He said the treaty will terminate in six months unless Moscow returns to “full and verifiable compliance.”
The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when 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.
After the U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw, Putin said Russia would do the same. He ordered the development of new land-based intermediate-range weapons but emphasized that Russia won’t deploy them in the European part of the country or elsewhere unless the U.S. does so.
“We will respond quid pro quo,” Putin said. “Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty, and we will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly.”
The U.S. has accused Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).
Trump’s move also reflected his administration’s view that the pact was an obstacle to efforts needed to counter intermediate-range missiles deployed by China, which isn’t part of the treaty.
NATO allies have strongly backed Washington and urged Moscow to save the treaty by returning to compliance.
Russia has rejected the U.S. claims of violation, charging that the missile, which is part of the Iskander-M missile system, has a maximum range of 480 kilometers (298 miles). Russian officials claimed the U.S. assertions about the alleged breach of the pact by Moscow were intended to shift the blame for the pact’s demise to Russia.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Saturday released a satellite image of what it described as new production facilities at the U.S. missile maker Raytheon’s plant in Tucson, Arizona, noting that their expansion began in 2017 as Congress authorized spending for the development of intermediate-range missiles.
“The character and the timing of the works provide an irrefutable proof that the U.S. administration had decided to pull out of the INF treaty years before making unfounded claims of Russian violations,” it said.
Putin has argued it makes no sense for Russia to deploy a ground-based cruise missile violating the treaty because it has such weapons on ships and aircraft, which aren’t banned by the pact.
What can Europe woo after Putin’s resign?
In the meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a new toy and he wants Russians to think of it as their special present, too. Lately, he called the successful test of a new supersonic weapon “a remarkable, excellent 2019 gift to the nation.” Russians probably would have preferred a rollback of a recent retirement-age increase under their trees, but that doesn’t much matter to Putin’s view of his country’s national interest.
The question to ask as a bad political year ends for Putin is to what degree his militaristic worldview should survive his leadership. That doesn’t only depend on Russians; once Putin is gone, the West but largely Europe will have another chance to tempt Russia with different prospects.
Quick take Cool War; Russia has a broad set of geopolitical options. It can try to be a global military superpower, a status it achieved in the 20th century despite a weak economy thanks to its armaments and creative strength harnessed by fearsomely repressive regimes.
It can accept the status of a regional power, increasingly turning into China’s junior ally and natural-resource base. Finally, it could establish itself as part of a greater Europe, following ideas first developed in the early 20th century by Halford Mackinder, one of the fathers of geopolitics.
Strengthening economic ties with Europe and supplying resources for China’s continuing boom the other two parts of the initial balancing act became harder with this refocusing. Europe’s peace project rejects aggression. To China, a militarily powerful, assertive Russia is an annoyance rather than a potential ally, and any kind of resource dependence on it is a risk.
The superpower game can only be played if Russia has a formidable nuclear deterrent. Without it, the Kremlin doesn’t have the freedom to fight smaller wars. That’s why Putin focuses on developing weapons the U.S. and its allies don’t have. The Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, tested in Putin’s presence, supposedly can break through missile-defense systems to deliver a nuclear payload at 20 times the speed of sound.
Vladislav Surkov, once Putin’s chief domestic ideologist and in recent years his eastern Ukraine czar, wrote an article last year extolling the virtues of geopolitical solitude. “For four centuries, Russia moved east and for another four centuries it moved west,” he wrote. “Both paths are at their end.”
But even the “happy solitude of a leader, a breakaway alpha-nation,” to use Surkov’s phrase, is increasingly hard to sell to Russians. For the older generation, Putin’s is the second iteration of a superpower game that brought them no economic benefits. For younger Russians, it’s an opportunity-limiting factor.
Many Russians realize, now that they’ve seen the world, that their country doesn’t have the economic power to go it alone. Repression is Putin’s only answer to these doubts and fears.
It’s not a comfortable answer, however, given Russia’s history of blowing up when its people’s patience runs out. Whenever and however Putin may leave, any successor will need to revise Russia’s geopolitical choice. Putin has taken two decades to show that he doesn’t have a reverse gear. A new leader will be free from this constraint, and Russia may find itself considering its three choices again.
Europe has a lot to gain if it has the courage. Drawing Russia in could solve some of the European Union’s fundamental problems. With its massive natural-gas reserves, Russia could propel Europe faster toward hard-to-reach environmental goals. With its untapped economic potential and need for immigrants to develop its vast territory, it could be a big help in resolving migration issues.
With its recent investment in agile, modern military power yes, in the Avangard, too it could provide a backbone for a joint European military.
Establishing a vast European common market including Russia wouldn’t be impossible: Even despite Putin’s hostility toward the West, Russia has adopted many European technical standards as it moved away from obsolete Soviet ones.
All of this, of course, would only make sense for Europe if Russia were prepared to yield some sovereignty, accept some rules of conduct and adopt Europe’s values. That’s difficult to imagine today, but then the current EU would have looked fantastical as recently as 30 years ago.
If European leaders were more farsighted, they’d be working on a comprehensive trade and security offer to Putin’s successor.
In the absence of such interest from Europe, any Putin successor will be tempted to continue the superpower game to the bitter economic end, with China waiting to get access to Russia’s natural resources on the most favorable terms it can get.
The option of continuing as China’s junior partner, the least preferable for Russia, could end up choosing itself. That’s hardly in Russia’s interest and probably not in Europe’s, either, because would mean either a repeat of post-Soviet chaos or a strengthening of China.
I’m unaware, however, of any preparatory work in the European capitals for the inevitable Russian succession. With Russia left to its own devices, Putin’s geopolitical choice, with supersonic weapons has a good chance of surviving his departure from the Kremlin.
*International pollical commentator for European Business Review and editor-in-chief of Kriek Media