01:30 GMT27 February 2021
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    The landmark late Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty, aimed primarily at reducing the risk of accidental nuclear war in Europe by eliminating a series of intermediate-range nuclear missiles, is set to expire on 2 August unless Russian and US negotiators can agree to save it.

    The US Mission to NATO has released a video justifying the Trump administration’s decision this February to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The animated clip accuses Moscow of “cheating” the treaty over the course of “several years by creating a missile system called SSC-8”. The video describes the weapon as “a mobile system that can be hidden and is massively destructive,” and accuses Russia of leaving “America and its Allies vulnerable”.

    The ‘SSC-8’, NATO’s classification for the RK-55 Relief, is a ground-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile system which the USSR eliminated between 1988 and 1990, in accordance with the terms of the INF, which prohibits the development, production and deployment of ground-based nuclear weapons capable of striking targets between 500 and 5,500 km away.

    In 2017, Washington started accusing Moscow of dusting off a version of the missile and deploying it in the form of the 9M729, a ground-based missile system which Moscow has shown to have a range below the 500 km limit outlined by the INF.

    In the US NATO mission’s clip however, animators seem to have mixed up their own side’s claims, showing the wrong missile. Instead of picturing the alleged ‘INF Treaty-violating’ 9M729, the video shows what looks like a crude version of a 9K720 Iskander, a short-range ballistic missile system with an operational range between 50 km and 415 km, which is also well within the bounds of the INF.

    Eagle-eyed Twitter users picked up on the mistake, asking the mission to “hire some interns” to do a better job promoting the US’s claims next time, and calling the clip a “goofy propaganda video.”

    Earlier this year, following President Trump’s announcement that the US would be scrapping the INF, Russia took the unprecedented step of declassifying the 9M729’s capabilities to military attaches and reporters at a military warehouse, showing how the missile itself and its launcher actually look, its range, and other characteristics. Despite this evidence, however, Washington has remained adamant that Russia is violating the treaty, and has not changed course on moving to scrap its commitments to the INF.

    Moscow has responded to the US claims by accusing Washington of ignoring its own commitments under the INF, including through the unlawful deployment of ground-based combat drones, the production of ground-based intermediate-range missiles for ‘testing purposes’ amid US efforts to build a missile shield, and the deployment of the Aegis Ashore missile defence components in Poland and Romania, whose launchers Moscow fears could be easily converted to fire nuclear-capable Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Russia.

    Aegis Ashore Weapon System
    Aegis Ashore Weapon System

    The US and NATO continue to blame Russia for the INF’s imminent demise. Last week, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg claimed there were “no signs whatsoever” that Russia would change its position on the INF and warned that the alliance has “to be prepared for a world without the INF Treaty and with more Russian missiles.” Earlier, Moscow reiterated that it remained open to settling the dispute over the INF through frank discussions based on “mutual transparency,” saying it was up to the US side to pick up the phone.


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