Russia Violated An Arms Treaty, Obama Administration Determines

As if U.S.-Russian relations weren’t at a low enough point already, the U.S. has now accused Russia of violating an arms treaty signed by the two nations almost 30 years ago. The Obama administration has determined that a missile test carried out by the Russians in 2011 constituted a violation of the treaty in question, and President Obama has written to Russian President Vladimir Putin to inform him of the White House’s finding. The State Department will soon make the allegation public in its annual report on international arms treaty compliance.

The treaty in question is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It prohibits, among other things, the possession, testing or deployment of medium-range missiles capable of flying 300 to 3,400 miles. The U.S. first got wind of the test back in 2011, and believes that Russia may have been testing the same type of missile as early as 2008; however, only recently did the administration conclude that the test actually constituted a violation of the treaty.

The allegation has nothing to do with any of the other recent fractures in U.S.-Russian relations, such as the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 or Russia's decision to grant asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

State Department officials first raised concerns with their Russian counterparts over the missile test in 2013; the Russians responded by alleging that a proposed U.S. missile system in Romania could also be used to launch the sort of rockets prohibited by the treaty. Both Russian and U.S. officials consider the other country’s accusations to be unfounded or, at best, dubious.

While it’s unclear exactly how the West will respond, a response does seem inevitable: NATO’s top commander, General Philip M. Breedlove, said in April that a violation of the treaty, if it did occur, “can’t go unanswered.” One possible U.S. response would be the deployment of sea- and air-launched cruise missile systems, which wouldn’t violate the treaty but would constitute a flexing of the ol’ geopolitical muscles.

In 2013, Putin referred to Gorbachev’s decision to sign the treaty as “debatable to say the least,” but pledged to uphold it nonetheless.