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Russia and US Are Using Banned Missiles

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The Pentagon has researched what it would take to build a kind of missile banned under a Cold War-era treaty—in an effort to pressure Russia to stop using those very missiles, reported Newser (US).

Officials tell the Wall Street Journal they are "laying the groundwork" necessary to build ground-based, intermediate-range missiles banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF) signed by the US and Soviet Union in 1987 as part of a new US strategy on Russia. Officials say Russia has been in violation of the treaty since 2012, which the Washington Post reports led congressional Republicans to lean on the Obama administration to do something. A year ago, it did ask Russia to cop to its production, but received only a denial. US intelligence determined the missile was actually used in February.

The US has reportedly told Russia what it is up to (which the Journal notes is currently in compliance with the INF), as well as that its work will be abandoned if Russia once again complies. Researching and developing missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers is permitted under the INF; actually producing, testing, and deploying is not. "We need to send a message to the Russians that they will pay a military price for violation of this treaty," an official says. Meanwhile, Russia denies any violations and in fact accuses the US of violating the INF via its missile defense systems in Romania and Poland. The Post notes the defense policy bill being considered by Congress would enable the development of the missile by way of a $58 million allocation.

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The US accuses Moscow of violating a 1987 INF Treaty banning short- and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Experts ponder if Washington is nudging Moscow to pull out of a treaty to create a new ‘nuke bogey’ while extending protection to the EU, reported Russia Today.

Washington says Russia has tested a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile thus breaching the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the US and the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago, banning all ground-based nuclear-capable missiles with range from 500 to 5,500km, the New York Times cited.

But has Russia really violated the letter of the INF Treaty?
The situation in the world has greatly changed over the years since the INF Treaty was signed.

By May 1991, the INF Treaty was fulfilled. The USSR eliminated 1,752 missiles of five types, some of them fired unarmed at special test grounds, with infrastructure and production lines also destroyed.

The US deactivated a total of 859 of three kinds of Pershing missiles, but kept the launch platforms, transforming the missiles into targets for future ABM tests - and still use them.

Today Moscow and Washington remain the world’s only capitals that imposed restrictions on themselves in the regard of short- and medium-range missile possession. Meanwhile, Russia has several nuclear states in imminent proximity to its borders that already have such medium-range missiles (China, India, Pakistan and probably Iran and North Korea) that can potentially strike Russian territory. The US has no such neighbors.

An expert of the Institute of International Security Problems, Valery Fenenko told RIA Novosti that the INF Treaty does not prohibit development of short and medium range missiles so both Russia and the US never stopped research in this area. Yet while Russia is doing the job all alone, the US has a helping hand of NATO allies.

“Americans are in a much easier situation in this regard. They have allies France and the UK that haven’t signed the INF Treaty. These countries have cruise missile projects of their own that could be easily be transformed into surface-to-surface missiles,” Fenenko said.

Russia could try to impose a moratorium on the Treaty until France and UK sign the document, “but there is no chance they would sign, so that would be the end of the treaty,” Fenenko concluded.

Though no Western media outlet has mentioned the name of the missile, there are probably only two candidates for the role of the “peace breaker.”

The first is Russia’s cutting edge ICBM RS-26 Rubezh (Frontier) complex dubbed 'ABM-killer', reportedly made on the basis of ICBM RS-24 Yars land-based mobile missile system. According to a top military official, it was tested several times at short distances of about 2,000km, RBC Daily reports.

However, Rubezh is technically beyond suspicion, according to member of the Academy of Sciences, Aleksey Arbatov, as under the treaty the ballistic missiles’ range is estimated as the maximum range it was tested at, which is a respectable 5,700km for RS-26 Rubezh.

The second candidate is the R-500, a cruise missile which can be used with ground-based 9K720 Iskander launcher. Its range is a delicate issue, said Arbatov as cited by RBC Daily. Though it has an officially announced range below 500km, its exact characteristics remain top-secret and could be argued.

According to military experts, the R-500 is a modification of the old Soviet 3M10 Granat with an estimated range of 2,600km that was initially designed for submarine launch. All land-based Granat missiles were destroyed under the INP Treaty. However, the treaty did not apply to naval missiles.

Iskander high-precision missile system in place during military exercise (RIA Novosti / Alexey Danichev)

The US has previously complained about suspected Russian treaty violations, presumably about the R-500 and its land-based tests that reportedly had to be conducted due to lack of funding. Moscow’s explanations did not satisfy Washington, noted Arbatov, adding that such decisions and arguments are usually discussed during the meeting of working groups – while now the issue has reached the presidential level.

At the same time, the Russian Air Force possesses a unique X-101 strategic cruise missile – which could potentially be adopted for surface launch – with some reports indicating its maximum range to be well over 5,500km. In that case this missile would not fall under conditions of the INF Treaty either - if adapted for ground launch from the Iskander complex.

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