Russia regrets US efforts to develop and field missiles which would violate the (now defunct) Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
"We are disappointed by what we are seeing. Testing of ground-based medium-range missiles is a violation of the INF Treaty, and aggravates the security situation generally and that of Europe in particular," Putin said, speaking to reporters in a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto on Wednesday.
Putin added that Russia was concerned that the US could deploy its new ground-based cruise missiles in Romania and Poland, and said Moscow would see such a deployment as a direct threat to its security.
Moscow will take the appropriate and "symmetrical" steps to respond if the US moves forward with such plans, but remains ready to engage in dialogue with its US and European partners on this issue, Putin noted.
Putin emphasised that Russia was particularly interested in a full-fledged "restoration of relations with the European Union," and said he hoped the bloc's new leadership would, "in turn, show a positive attitude towards maintaining mutually beneficial relations of partnership with our country."
Need to Save New START
Also Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed Putin's concerns, saying Sunday's test of a ground-based medium-range missile by the US created risks to global strategic stability, and adding that such testing could spark a global arms race.
"We have said for many years that when the US decided to deploy these systems as part of its missile defence shield in Europe that the MK-41 [launcher] was suitable not only for launching anti-ballistic missiles, but for offensive cruise missiles, and had emphasised that this would be a direct violation of the INF," Lavrov said, speaking with his German counterpart Heiko Maas.
"The day before yesterday, it was from an installation of this type that a piece of weaponry was tested which falls under the prohibitions of the INF treaty, and this installation has been deployed in Romania for several years now," Lavrov said.
Lavrov noted that Russia has called on the US side to take concrete steps to save the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is currently set to expire in 2021, with that treaty now the last major Russian-US strategic arms agreement still in place after the US's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and its exit from the INF earlier this month.
"There aren't many agreements left in this sphere (arms control), and they must be cherished," Lavrov stressed. "We have called on the US to take concrete steps to ensure its extension, and are now waiting for an answer," he added.
Some US officials, including Trump national security advisor John Bolton, have recently said that Washington probably wouldn't extend New Start, with Bolton calling the agreement "flawed" since it "did not cover short-range tactical nuclear weapons or new Russian delivery systems."
On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy said Russia and China have made a formal request to hold a meeting of the Security Council "in connection with US statements about its plans to test and deploy medium-range missiles."
The US formally withdrew from the INF on 2 August after initiating the process in February amid allegations about Russian violations of the landmark Cold War-era treaty. Russia followed suit and announced that it too would be withdrawing in July, but promised not to deploy intermediate-range missiles in the European theatre if the US also refrained from doing so.
The INF was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, and committed both countries to destroy their stocks of ground-based missiles in the 500-5,500 km range, and to refrain from their development and production. The treaty led to the elimination of over 2,600 missiles by 1991. One of the key purposes of the treaty was to reduce the risk of nuclear war accidentally breaking out in Europe due to fears over the short flight time between US missiles stationed in Western Europe and Soviet cities. If the US were to deploy offensive missiles in Romania and Poland today, their flight time to Russian cities would be even shorter than it was during the Cold War, when the superpowers stood on the brink of nuclear war.