Putin again threatens to develop previously banned missiles if US does

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Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. once again this week that Russia would develop missiles previously banned under a landmark nuclear forces treaty if it learns that the United States has begun building them itself.

“Of course we will produce such missiles,” the Russian president said at an economic forum on Thursday in his nation’s Far East, referring to the short- and intermediate-range land-launched missiles previously abolished by the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

“We are not happy about the fact that the head of the Pentagon said that the United States intends to deploy them in Japan and South Korea,” Putin said, according to Reuters. “This saddens us and is a cause for certain concern.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters last month that he wants to deploy an intermediate-range conventional missile to Asia, but added that the U.S. is “quite some ways away from that.”

“It’s going to take … a few years to actually have some type of initial operational-capable missiles, whether they are ballistic, cruise – you name it, to be able to deploy,” he said, noting there would be “a lot of dialogue” between now and then with U.S. partners.

Putin said missiles in Asia would be close enough to threaten Russian territory.

Esper’s remarks came shortly after the United States formally withdrew from the INF on Aug. 2. Putin responded by saying that Russia would begin developing short- and intermediate-range land-launched nuclear missiles if it hears the United States has done the same.

The agreement between the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union eliminated thousands of land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as nuclear missiles, from the stocks of both nations. The INF specifically banned missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,410 miles. The U.S. has claimed Russia’s Novator 9M729 missile violated the treaty, as it has a range up to approximately 3,410 miles.

The White House had announced in February that it was suspending its INF obligations and gave Russia six months to comply with the treaty, or else it would withdraw.

Three weeks after exiting the INF, the U.S. tested a ground-based cruise missile armed with a conventional warhead that traveled more than 310 miles, which would have been in violation of the agreement. Officials have said the missile could eventually double that range.

Putin has said that Russia and the U.S. should resume talks for a possible new treaty in order to avoid an “unfettered” arms race, which he accuses the United States of encouraging.

“I don’t see an arms race happening here,” Esper has said. “Russia has been racing, if anybody, to develop these systems in violation of the treaty, not us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.