Obama Administration Says Russia Violated Cold War–Era Treaty

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Photo: Hannah Peters/2014 Getty Images

Today wasn't exactly a good start to Russian president Vladimir Putin's week. In addition to amping up sanctions against Russia, the United States formally concluded Monday that Russia violated a 1987 treaty that banned testing mid-range missiles.

President Ronald Reagan signed the agreement at issue here, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of the Cold War. Among the things prohibited by the treaty are ground-launched cruise missiles, which the U.S. now believes Russia has been testing.

But the trouble is that Russia’s mid-range missile tests aren’t exactly new. Putin has been wishy-washy about the INF treaty since 2007, when he threatened to pull out because other countries (like his neighbor to the southeast China) did not have to abide by the same restrictions. U.S. officials, too, have long questioned Russia’s compliance with the treaty. The only change is that the U.S. has now leveled formal accusations against Russia, whose officials "said that they had looked into the matter and consider the issue to be closed” last year.

This accusation came on the same day the U.S. joined with the European Union to sharply increase sanctions against Russia, as tensions along the country's border with Ukraine continue to escalate. European countries, sometimes hesitant to strain trade relationships with Russia, have exceeded U.S. sanctions in some instances, according to the New York Times.

So what can the U.S. do about the treaty violation? That’s not entirely clear, and may be one of the reasons U.S. officials have waited so long before formally announcing their concerns. According to the Times, “the responses might include deploying sea- and air-launched cruise missiles, which would be an allowable under the accord.” But every move may just give Russia the push it needs to opt out of the treaty altogether.