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Russia defends new cruise missile that U.S. says violates INF nuclear treaty

Bolton speaks in Moscow

Moscow -- The Russian military has released the specifications of its new missile, seeking to dispel the U.S. claim that the weapons violate a key nuclear arms pact. The military insisted Wednesday that its new SSC-8 ground-fired cruise missile (also known as the Novator 9M729) conforms to the limits of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at a NATO meeting in early December that Washington would suspend its obligations under the INF treaty by Feb. 2, citing Russian "cheating," unless Moscow comes into compliance with the terms of the pact. The U.S. government says the new Russian missile violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 310 to 3,400 miles.  

Lt. Gen. Mikhail Matveevsky, the chief of the military's missile and artillery forces, said at a meeting with foreign military attaches that the new missile has a maximum range of 298 miles.

Russia has vowed "retaliation" if U.S. leaves INF

While Russia insists the new 9M729 cruise missile does not violate the terms of the INF, Russian officials warned in December of "retaliation" if the U.S. does follow through on the Trump administration's decision to abandon the treaty.

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Russian Defense Ministry officials show off Russia's new 9M729 cruise missile (known in the U.S. as the SSC-8) at the military Patriot Park outside Moscow, Jan. 23, 2019. Getty

President Vladimir Putin said if the U.S. started developing new intermediate range missiles, his country would respond in kind to build its own new weapons. That, however, is exactly what the Trump administration argues Russia has already done with the 9M729.

The U.S. has shared intelligence evidence with its NATO allies that it says shows that Russia's SSC-8 missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.  

In his annual end-of-year news conference, Putin warned of the growing threat of nuclear war, telling journalists in Moscow that, "the danger of the situation escalating is being downplayed."

"If something like this would happen, it might lead to the collapse of the entire civilization," he said, adding that he believed, "humanity would have the necessary common sense in order to avoid any extremities."

Putin also hailed in December the final tests of a hypersonic missile, which he earlier said would render existing missile defense systems obsolete.

"On my instructions, the Ministry of Defense prepared and conducted a final test of this system. This has just been completed with absolute success," Putin said during a televised meeting with members of the government. "Russia has a new type of strategic weapon," he said, adding that the intercontinental "Avangard" system would be ready for use from 2019. 

Russia calls Trump plan to withdraw from nuclear arms treaty "very dangerous"
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