ObamaMedvedev
© Reuters/Jason Reed
Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev sign the New START treaty in Prague.
The US may be preparing to torpedo the New START deal with Russia, which limits the number of nuclear weapons each country can have, in its latest escalation over a Russian missile "violating" the INF arms treaty, Moscow says.

The suspicion was voiced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in response to remarks by US Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who said the New START treaty may be affected by the current quarrel, between the two countries, over another key agreement, the INF Treaty.

New START was signed in 2010 by then-presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama. It set limits on how many nuclear warheads, and means for their delivery, each country can possess. It replaced an earlier agreement signed by US and USSR and is due to expire in 2021, with an option of a five-year extension.

The INF in turn was agreed in late years of the Cold War and banned a certain class of weapons - land-based ballistic and cruise missiles if intermediate range - to reduce tension in Europe. The mass deployment of such missiles by NATO nations and the Warsaw Pact Organization on the continent was deemed too risky, since it made the possibility of a nuclear war by mistake too likely.

"I have seen the statement that if the INF no longer exists, then the New START will be put in question," Lavrov told journalists on Friday. It seems that the ground is being laid to eventually scrap this document too.

The INF has had a bumpy road over the past decade as tension between the US and Russia escalated. Washington claims Russia has secretly developed a missile that violates the terms of the treaty. Moscow says the US has de facto made its Tomahawk missiles land-based with the creation of the AEGIS Ashore, the land-based version of the naval anti-missile system that uses launchers compatible with the iconic cruise missiles.

There are also missiles used as targets to test ABM technologies in the US, which can be easily converted into nuclear delivery vehicles, Moscow says.

While complaints are nothing new, the Trump administration has lately declared its intention to scrap the INF over Russia's perceived violations. This week US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Moscow an ultimatum, saying it must comply with the agreement within 60 days or see the US withdraw from it.

Russia insists that the missile, the 9M729 rocket fired by the Iskander M launcher, does not violate the INF, falling within the permitted 500-kilometer range, and that the US simply uses faulty intelligence as an excuse to scrap the deal - fitting the current administration's overall policy to reject binding international agreements.
"When the US started accusing us of violating the agreement a few years ago, they did it without any proof. We had to pry information from them to understand what they were talking about in the first place," Lavrov said.

"Finally they named the particular rocket... and claimed that on a certain day it was tested at a certain range and exceeded the distance limit set in the treaty. Our data from that test say otherwise.

"The US reportedly shared their intelligence with other NATO allies during a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. If that is true, we have not received any such documents from the Americans."
Meanwhile, Lavrov has reiterated that Russia wants to keep both the New START and the INF afloat.