Putin Threatens Arms Race as U.S. Prepares to Exit Nuclear Treaty

By Thomas Grove (Wall Street Journal)

Updated Dec. 5, 2018 8:55 a.m. ET


U.S. gives Moscow deadline to comply with pact; Russia says it will respond if Washington withdraws from the treaty

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the prospect of an arms race with the U.S. on Wednesday in response to Washington’s warning it could suspend a Cold War-era treaty that prohibits intermediate and shorter-range nuclear missiles.

The U.S. has accused Russia of violating the Treaty on Intermediate-range Nuclear Force, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that Washington would freeze its commitments under the treaty in 60 days if Russia didn’t comply with the pact. Russia denies it has violated the treaty.

Mr. Putin said Russia would “respond appropriately” if the U.S. withdrew from the agreement, and indicated that Moscow would follow through on the development and construction of shorter and intermediate-range weapons if the U.S. sought to construct such weapons.

“Our American partners apparently believe that the situation has changed to such an extent that the U.S. should have such weapons,” said Mr. Putin, speaking on state TV.

“What answer will they have from our side? It’s simple: we’ll do it too.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said Russia’s development of the 9M729 cruise missile—a program Moscow has been working on for years—was a violation of the INF Treaty. In October, he said Washington would withdraw from the three-decade old agreement, which prohibits the use of intermediate- and shorter-range rockets as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles.

U.S. officials last year said the Pentagon had begun work on preliminary research and development of nuclear weapons aimed at potentially reviving an arsenal of the type prohibited under the treaty. They said Moscow had been informed of the U.S.’ progress in order to pressure Russia into compliance with the 1987 agreement that covers missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or about 300 to 3,400 miles.

Russia says Washington’s accusations are groundless and that Moscow had tried numerous times to prove it was abiding by the treaty. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last month it had tested the 9M729 cruise missile in the past but at ranges below those banned under the nuclear deal.

The head of Russia’s armed forces Valery Gerasimov assembled foreign military attaches Wednesday to warn them Russia would respond to the U.S.’ withdrawal from the agreement.

“I would like to transmit the message through you to your superiors that if the INF agreement is broken, our side will respond,” he said, speaking on state TV.

Write to Thomas Grove at thomas.grove@wsj.com