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Russia to pull plug on nuclear arms pact after U.S. backs out

U.S. pulls out of Cold War-era deal

Russia -- following in the footsteps of the U.S. -- will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Moscow on Friday of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty "with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad."

"The United States will suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty and begin the process of withdrawing from the INF Treaty, which will be completed in six months unless Russia comes back into compliance by destroying all of its violating missiles, launchers, and associated equipment," Mr. Trump said in a statement. 

After the U.S. announcement, Putin ordered the development of new land-based intermediate-range weapons, but emphasized that Russia won't deploy them in the European part of the country or elsewhere unless the U.S. does so.

"We will respond quid pro quo," Putin said. "Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty and will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly."

The U.S. has accused Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 310 to 3,410 miles. NATO allies have strongly backed Washington and urged Moscow to save the treaty by returning to compliance. 

But Russia has categorically rejected the U.S. claims of violation and accused Washington of making false claims in order to justify its pullout. Putin has argued that it makes no sense for Russia to deploy a ground-based cruise missile violating the treaty because it has such weapons on ships and aircraft, which aren't banned by the pact. 

Speaking Saturday in a televised meeting with his foreign and defense ministers, he instructed the military to work on developing new land-based weapons that were previously forbidden by the INF treaty.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that they would include a land-based version of the Kalibr ship-based cruise missile and a new hypersonic intermediate-range ballistic missile. 

Putin emphasized that such new weapons won't be deployed unless the U.S. does so.

"Russia will not station intermediate-range weapons in Europe or other regions until similar U.S. weapons appear in those regions," he said.

At the same time, the Russian leader said he would like to review the progress on building other prospective weapons that don't fall under the INF treaty, including the intercontinental Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle and the Poseidon underwater nuclear drone.  He noted Shoigu's report that a key stage in testing of the Poseidon was completed several days ago.

The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets. 

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