Russia is engaged in a major violation of the terms of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the United States by building a new medium-range missile banned under the accord, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Disclosure of the treaty violation comes as President Barack Obama last week called for a new round of arms negotiations with Moscow aimed at cutting deployed nuclear warheads by one-third.
Intelligence officials said internal assessments identified Russia’s new Yars M missile that was tested earlier this month as an INF missile with a range of less than 5,500 kilometers.
“The intelligence community believes it’s an intermediate-range missile that [the Russians] have classified as an ICBM because it would violate the INF treaty” if its true characteristics were known, said one official.
However, Russia is denying its new Yars M missile represents an INF violation.
Retired Lt. Gen. Victor Yesin, a former commander of Russian strategic forces and current consultant to the chief of the general staff, said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon that Russia is complying with the terms of INF because the Yars M, also known as RS-26, is an ICBM and not a banned intermediate-range system.
“According to the information I have, Russia closely follows the obligations arising from the 1987 INF Treaty and 2010 New START Treaty,” Yesin said. “The RS-26 ballistic missile, which is a Topol class ICBM, is not covered by the INF Treaty as its range is over 5,500 kilometers. Russia officially informed the U.S. about that in August 2011.
The issue of Russian INF compliance was raised in Moscow on Monday by presidential aide Sergei Ivanov, who told a television interviewer that Russia would not adhere to INF treaty constraints indefinitely.
“A legitimate question arises: On the one hand, we have signed the Soviet-U.S. treaty, and we are honoring it, but this can’t last endlessly,” Ivanov said according to Interfax.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said June 19 that some of Russia’s “neighbors,” a reference to China, were developing INF missiles and suggested Moscow would not allow the INF treaty to hinder its strategic arms buildup.
“We cannot accept a situation that would put the strategic deterrent system out of balance and make our nuclear forces less effective,” Putin said on the same day Obama announced plans for a one-third cut in the U.S. deployed nuclear warhead arsenal.
Two U.S. intelligence officials said the new Yars M mobile missile is not an ICBM and that the administration needs to confront the Russians on the system or risk undermining the entire arms control agenda.
The Russian INF violation initially was disclosed in vague terms by members of Congress, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.), and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.).
McKeon and Rogers wrote to Obama in April describing earlier concerns over what they called “a massive Russian violation and circumvention of an arms control obligation to the United States of great significance to this nation and its NATO allies.”
“Briefings provided by your administration have agreed with our assessment that Russian actions are serious and troubling, but have failed to offer any assurance of any concrete action to address these Russian actions,” the two chairman stated in the April 12 letter.