More on Allegations of Russian Violation of INF Treaty

Congressman Clarifies U.S. INF Concerns
Tom Z. Collina
Arms Control Today | June 2014

A U.S. congressman provided new details in late April about the Obama administration’s allegation that Russia may be breaching a key U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, stating that Moscow may have tested a cruise missile from a prohibited launcher.

At a joint April 29 hearing of two House Foreign Affairs Committee panels, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that Russia claims to have tested an intermediate-range missile for use at sea, which is allowed under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, but that Moscow used “what appears to be an operational, usable ground-based launcher,” which is not allowed. Sherman said that “it appears as if [the Russians] were developing a ground-based capacity for this intermediate missile.”

The INF Treaty permanently bans U.S. and Russian ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of traveling 500 to 5,500 kilometers; it does not cover sea-based missiles. According to the treaty, a cruise missile can be developed for use at sea if it is test-launched “from a fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from” operational ground-based cruise missile launchers.

Testing an intermediate-range cruise missile from a ground-based launcher that is not distinguishable from operational launchers, as well as testing from a mobile launcher, would be a violation of the treaty.

Sherman said that Russia is allowed to test sea-launched cruise missiles from a ground-based launcher unless “that ground-based launcher would be the effective launcher to use in case hostilities broke out.”

Anita Friedt, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear and strategic policy, said at the hearing that the United States has “very serious concerns” that “Russia is developing a ground-launched cruise missile that is inconsistent with” the INF Treaty. She did not confirm or deny Sherman’s description of the alleged violation.

The State Department made its concerns public for the first time in January after months of speculation. (See ACT, March 2014.) The Obama administration is expected to release its annual report on arms control compliance, including a determination on Russia’s possible INF violation, in the near future.

In May 9 comments to the Defense Writers Group, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said she would not expect the issue “to drag on for years” and that it was “ripe for resolution.”

Conservatives in the House of Representatives are seeking to use Russia’s actions on the INF Treaty to block other arms control agreements. On May 22, the House voted 233-191 to approve an amendment to the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that would prevent funding for implementation of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until Russia “is no longer taking actions that are inconsistent with the INF Treaty,” among other conditions.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who sits on the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, introduced the amendment, which was supported by seven Democrats and 226 Republicans.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the defense bill May 22 with a provision requiring the secretary of defense to notify the Senate of potential violations of arms control agreements.

Some Republican senators have criticized the administration for its handling of the potential INF Treaty violation, saying the executive branch withheld information that was relevant to the Senate debate on New START in late 2010. The administration has said it did provide information on the alleged breach during that time. (See ACT, April 2014.)

At the April 29 hearing, neither Sherman nor the State Department identified what type of cruise missile Russia might be testing or the type of launcher, but unconfirmed reports have focused on Russia’s R-500 Iskander-K. That system, reportedly first tested in 2007, would use a road-mobile launcher, as the Iskander-M does. The latter is a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile that Russia has said it plans to deploy near NATO member countries in response to U.S. missile defense plans. (See ACT, January/February 2014.)

Previous reports had focused on Russia’s RS-26 ballistic missile, which Moscow has reportedly flight-tested at intermediate ranges. But because the RS-26 has also been tested at ranges greater than 5,500 kilometers, it is considered by both sides to be an intercontinental ballistic missile and therefore covered and allowed by New START.

Regarding this allegation, Sherman said at the hearing that “it seems clear it is a long-range missile” and thus not covered by the INF Treaty.


Moscow may walk out of nuclear treaty after US accusations of breach
Russia said to be on point of leaving 1987 treaty, after Obama administration said it violated the accord with tests of R-500
Alec Luhn in Moscow and Julian Borger | Tuesday 29 July 2014

Russia may be on the point of walking out of a major cold war era arms-control treaty, Russian analysts have said, after President Obama accused Moscow of violating the accord by testing a cruise missile.

There has been evidence at least since 2011 of Russian missile tests in violation of the 1987 intermediate range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, which banned US or Russian ground-launched cruise missiles with a 500 to 5,500-mile (805 to 8,851km) range. But the Obama administration has been hesitant until now of accusing Moscow of a violation in the hope that it could persuade Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to stop the tests or at least not deploy the weapon in question, known as the Iskander, or R-500.

Washington has also been reticent because of the technical differences in definition of what constitutes the range of a missile under the INF treaty. That ambiguity now seems to have dropped away. According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst and columnist for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Russia has indeed broken the treaty by testing the R-500 which has a range of more than 1,000km.

"Of course, this is in gross violation of the 1987 treaty, but Russian officials including Putin have said this treaty is unfair and not suitable for Russia," Felgenhauer said. "The United States doesn’t have [medium-range missiles] but other countries do have them, such as China, Pakistan and Israel, so they say this is unfair and wrong."

Russian press reports have suggested the missile may even be in deployment, with state news agency RIA Novosti reporting in June that the "Russian army currently uses its Iskander-M and Iskander-K variants." Felgenhauer said he doesn’t believe the missile has been deployed, although he said it’s entirely possible that Russia will leave the treaty amid tensions with the US.

"The present situation of a new cold war in Europe – and not even cold, at least not in Ukraine right now – it’s a situation in which Russia can abrogate the 1987 treaty, and the possibilities are rather high," Felgenhauer said.

Russian officials have previously criticised the 1987 treaty, including former defence minister Sergei Ivanov. In 2013, Ivanov, then presidential chief of staff, said of the treaty: "We are fulfilling it, but it can’t last forever."

According to Kremlin-linked analyst Sergei Markov, Russia has a far greater need for medium-range cruise missiles than the |US, because military rivals including China are located near its borders and because Moscow lacks the Americans’ long-range bombing capabilities.

"Russia would be happy to leave this agreement, and I think Russia is using the Ukraine crisis to leave the agreement," Markov said.

As for Russia’s complaints about US aegis missiles, Felgenhauer said they reflect the genuine belief among Kremlin top brass that the US missile defence has a secret attack capability and poses a threat to Russia.

"This was a normal Soviet practice that missile interceptors had the in-built capability to be used as an attack missile," Felgenhauer said.


Allegation of INF Treaty Violation Part of US’s Anti-Russia Campaign – military expert

MOSCOW, July 29, 2014 (RIA Novosti) – Russia has never violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, unlike the United States, which has repeatedly ignored the provisions of this document while running anti-missile tests, Igor Krotchenko, a member of the Russian Defence Ministry’s Public Council, told RIA Novosti Tuesday.

“Washington’s accusations on Russia of violating the INF Treaty appear to be politically engaged. They are a part of the massive anti-Russian campaign, currently waged by the US authorities, ” Krotchenko said.

Krotchenko also pointed out that the United States has been violating this treaty “on a regular basis,” explaining, “It should be noted that while accusing Russia, the United States violates the provisions of this treaty on a regular basis, while running anti-missile tests.”

Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky, former head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s international cooperation department, agrees with Krotchenko. Buzhinsky believes that the accusations are another stage in information warfare.

“We haven’t violated anything … This is a normal work-related issue. We accuse them too,” said Buzhinsky, reminding that there is an official protocol that the United States needs to follow in order to get the Russia’s official explanations on the matter. “Everything else is just waging information warfare,” he added.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is a 1987 agreement between the United States and the USSR to eliminate the use of nuclear and conventional missiles with intermediate range, defined as 500 to 5,000 kilometers (310 to 3,100 miles).

The accusations on Russia of breaking the agreement first appeared in a The New York Times article published Monday. According to the newspaper, the violation was for cruise missile tests dating back to 2008.


Allegations of Russian Violation of INF Treaty

State Department Daily Press Briefing – 29 July 2014 [Excerpt on Russia INF Violation]
29 July 2014

U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Daily Press Briefing Index
1:28 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Jen Psaki, Spokesperson


TUESDAY, JULY 29, 2014

1:28 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. It’s pink tie day in the second row. I like it.

QUESTION: It is indeed. It had to be worn.

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) I have a couple of items for all of you at the top. We also are departing for India shortly, so I ask that let’s try to get through everyone’s questions if we can.

Today, the Administration submitted the 2014 Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments to the Congress. This report covers the year 2013. The Administration takes compliance very seriously, and has submitted a report to Congress covering every year of the Administration as well as the years 2005 through 2008. The report is a product of the Administration’s rigorous compliance review process and reflects the concurrence of the Departments of Energy and Defense, including the Joint Staff, as well as coordination with the intelligence community.

In the report, the United States determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF Treaty as you all know it – obligations not to possess, produce or flight test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers; or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles. This is a very serious matter, which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now. The United States is committed to the viability of the INF Treaty. We encourage Russia to return to compliance with its obligations under the treaty and to eliminate any prohibited items in a verifiable manner.

The INF Treaty serves the mutual security interests of the parties, not just the United States and Russia, but also the 11 other successor states of the former Soviet Union, which are also states parties to the treaty and bound by its obligations. Moreover, this treaty contributes to the security of our allies and to regional security in Europe and in the Middle East – and in the Far East, sorry.

The Administration will work to resolve the compliance issues outlined in the report through bilateral and multilateral means. A step that can be taken right away by the Senate is the confirmation of Frank Rose, who has been nominated to be Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. This lifelong public servant has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations and he has been waiting for over a year. It is vitally important that he is confirmed without further delay. We need to underscore to the world the seriousness with which we take compliance by having our senior compliance officer in place. He will also need to be in place so we can work to resolve outstanding issues in this report. The unclassified report will be available online later this afternoon.

The Secretary also spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. They discussed Russia’s violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty. He said the United States would like to discuss the issue in a senior-level bilateral dialogue immediately. Foreign Minister Lavrov said he would consult and respond to the request soon.


QUESTION: All right. And then just on the INF violations, you said that you take these violations extremely seriously and you need to have your assistant secretary confirmed, that that underscores the seriousness with which the Administration takes these violations. If the Administration takes these violations so seriously, why did it take until now for you guys to report these violations —

MS. PSAKI: Well —

QUESTION: — or to make the allegation that they had been —

MS. PSAKI: — let me first note, just – this doesn’t answer your question, but I think it’s relevant information. We first raised this issue with Russia last year. That happens at Rose’s level, which is the appropriate level – at the under secretary level.

There is – decisions need to be made in these cases based on whether these issues constitute noncompliance after a careful fact-based process, which includes diplomatic work, and through an interagency consideration process. That’s been ongoing. As it was concluded, the information is made available to Congress.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns because of this that the – that more of the arms control regimes that the United States had had with the Soviet Union and then continued on with the Russian Federation are in jeopardy?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think one of the reasons the Secretary wants to have a dialogue at a high level is to have a discussion about how Russia can come back into compliance. And —

QUESTION: But I’m talking about with other treaties, not just specifically this one.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think —

QUESTION: Or is there a risk that the entire regime, everything that’s been built up – that was built up beginning in the Cold War and then carrying on after 1991 – is there a risk of that collapsing?

MS. PSAKI: At this point, we have not made a determination that Russia is in violation of the treaty or any other treaty. We certainly are —

QUESTION: Of any other treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, this wasn’t —

QUESTION: You’re saying they’re in violation of the INF, but of any other treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Noncompliance, yes. But our goal is to convince Russia to return to compliance and to preserve the viability of this relationship and the efforts that have been underway for decades now.

QUESTION: What are the consequences for violation or noncompliance?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I think our immediate focus here is, Elise, is on having this dialogue with them to return them to compliance. It’s in everyone’s interests for – to preserve the work that’s been done over the past several decades.

QUESTION: And are you concerned that this will be seen kind of in the totality of what’s going on with Russia right now, that between your determination of noncompliance and your consultation with NATO allies about it, that Russia will see this as part of a kind of broader escalation of the tensions, and perhaps, as Matt said, this could affect their cooperation on nonproliferation regime?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our hope is that it certainly wouldn’t, because it’s in everyone’s interest to continue to abide by these treaty obligations. To be clear, this has nothing to do with Ukraine. I understand there could be that perception, and the timing is unrelated to everything having to do with Ukraine. There’s a process that is undergone to review whether there is noncompliance, and that was completed, so here we are today.

QUESTION: But you completed that process a while ago, though, didn’t you? I mean, you’ve known for a while that Russia was potentially in noncompliance of the treaty, and it’s just that —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we —

QUESTION: — now you finally, maybe because this congressional report was coming up or – I mean, if you could talk about the timing a little bit more, because we reported on this earlier in the year that this was hanging out there.

MS. PSAKI: This – and we confirmed at the time —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — that this issue was first raised with Russia —


MS. PSAKI: — last year.


MS. PSAKI: And the Secretary himself has raised noncompliance issues in general with Russia.


MS. PSAKI: There’s a process that’s undergone with the report every time it’s released. I believe the report is technically due in the spring. You have to go through the process, which includes analysis, an interagency process, a diplomatic process, and as it’s concluded, we make the information available.

QUESTION: Did you – was part of the determination because your diplomatic outreach to Russia was proving unproductive, and at this point, given the climate with Russia, you didn’t think you were going to get any more cooperation? Because I know you did try to solve it diplomatically before putting them in noncompliance.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there are a range of factors, Elise. I’m just not going to go into them in more detail.

I have to go in just a few minutes.

QUESTION: Just a couple on Russia.

MS. PSAKI: Lucas, go ahead. And then we’ll go to —

QUESTION: When did these violations specifically take place of these test ban treaties?

MS. PSAKI: I can’t get into that level of detail, Lucas.



Putin’s Treaty Problem: The Lessons of Russia’s INF Treaty Violations
Thomas Karako
CSIS | Jul 29, 2014

On September 11, 2013, Vladimir Putin penned an op-ed in the New York Times, objecting to possible intervention in Syria on the principled basis of international law and sovereignty: “The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.” Months later, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and continues to sponsor rebel forces in eastern Ukraine. This of course contravenes Russia’s international law treaty obligations under the UN Charter, as well as its political obligations under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

A formal letter to Putin from President Obama now confirms what Congress has been saying for years: that Russia has also been violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which prohibits all ground-launched missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Reports of alleged Russian violations have long been filtering out in both the Russian and American press.

Some arms control commentators initially scoffed at the warnings, writing them off as frivolous accusations by hawkish legislators and overzealous journalists. On the basis of extensive classified information and confirmation by the Departments of State and Defense, the House of Representatives in May declared Russia in “material breach” of the treaty. At a July 17 House Armed Services Committee hearing, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer suggested that Russia’s INF missile tests were part of a larger and “disturbing pattern of disregard for international agreements.”

Those who scoffed should now take the lesson to heart. For one thing, we should reconsider giving Russia the benefit of the doubt for faithful treaty implementation. The old maxim for the Soviets still applies to Russia: trust but verify. Numerous questions remain about Russia’s compliance with the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, the U.S. definition of obligations under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Biological Weapons Convention, to say nothing of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty now honored in the breach.

INF accomplished something that had never been done before. Some 2,692 intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles were destroyed, including the multiwarhead Soviet SS-20, the American Pershing II, and an American ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). By reducing threats of surprise and preemptive attack, the treaty defused tension, helped reassure NATO allies, and improved strategic stability.

By 2011, U.S. officials concluded that Russia had probably violated INF, but curiously the State Department omitted any mention of concern in its annual arms control compliance reports to Congress. Nor, apparently, was the Senate informed about concerns prior to ratifying New START. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was finally briefed about the missile in November 2012, then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is said to have been frustrated, reportedly saying that, “We’re not going to pass another treaty in the U.S. Senate if our colleagues are sitting up there knowing somebody is cheating.” After receiving the 2014 compliance report, Congress should ask why it took so long to report and protest the violations.

Sadly, Russia’s record also calls into question prospects for a post–New START agreement to limit or even inspect Russia’s stockpile of some 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which have never been regulated under any treaty regime. Such reductions could well benefit the United States, but unilateral reductions and unverifiable Russian promises may not. Russia’s pattern of noncompliance should inform assumptions about what constitutes sufficient verification measures for future arms control agreements and, indeed, for future reviews of the U.S. nuclear posture.

Russia’s apparent “soft-exit” strategy of quiet violation tries to have it both ways—getting the benefits of being outside the treaty while still constraining the United States. Russian officials have complained about INF for years, on the grounds that they are now surrounded by a number of countries with these same capabilities—China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Israel. Similar complaints about conventional inferiority led to Russia’s noncompliance with CFE. This of course raises the question: what should the United States do if INF goes the way of CFE?

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review declared that “it is not enough to detect non-compliance; violators must know that they will face consequences when they are caught.” Speaking in Prague in 2009, President Obama declared that “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.” The State Department’s 2010 Verifiability Assessment for New START likewise indicated that arms control violations merited “significant” sanctions and “financial and international political costs” for “Russian cheating or breakout.” What, then, will those consequences be?

Obama’s letter to Putin reportedly notes that the United States will not violate the treaty by deploying currently prohibited INF-range systems. For the time being, this is a measured step. Trying to preserve INF while hedging against its termination could conceivably provide some constraint on additional Russian missiles. For now, the United States should not make it easy on Russia by taking it upon itself to terminate INF on Russia’s behalf. If Russia feels that it really needs INF-proscribed missiles, it should bear the onus of coming out and saying so. Assuming Russia mouths support for the treaty, reinstating INF’s intrusive inspections might be one way to verify compliance.

Cajoling Russia on INF will be hard, but several steps should be taken in the meantime. For one, the United States should exercise its right to call for a special meeting of the INF Treaty’s Special Verification Commission, which has not met since 2003. The State Department’s arms control report might also be supplemented with an appendix describing the violations in more detail, which conclusions could then be circulated widely among allies and partners.

The Pentagon should also begin exploring the feasibility of capabilities in the absence of the INF Treaty. A September 2013 report by STRATCOM and the Joint Chiefs described the “capability gap” for the United States under the INF treaty and several possible responses if the INF were to lapse. Those steps could include systems to hold at risk threats from Iran, North Korea, and China—and Russian’s own intermediate-range systems. Possibilities include an improved Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and using the Vertical Launch System planned for Aegis Ashore in Europe to host land-attack cruise missiles. In today’s budget environment, investment in shiny new “Pershing IIIs” seems unlikely. Land basing for existing sea-launched missiles, expanded missile defense deployments, and extended range guided artillery, however, might be easier and more desirable.

Russia also should be reminded that building INF-range missiles is likely to stimulate further interest in Europe-based missile defenses about which they so frequently and bitterly complain. In March, the Missile Defense Agency director testified that minor changes could make Aegis Ashore capable of cruise missile defense.

No one is yet recommending that these be deployed, but studying these options is fully consistent with the treaty. As arms control, INF originally benefited the United States because it exacted a relatively greater disadvantage to the Soviets. Whether or not we are better off in the absence of INF depends on a realistic assessment of whether the United States will end up relatively advantaged by actually fielding defenses and other currently proscribed systems.

“Whether [they] like it or not,” to use Putin’s phrase, Russia is obligated to honor its international agreements. The now-acknowledged INF violations, however, are the latest in Russia’s long pattern of dishonoring treaties. U.S. policymakers should respond firmly through diplomatic and other means, take concrete steps to hedge against formal or informal treaty lapse, and finally take to heart the lessons learned about Russia’s troubling arms control record.

Thomas Karako is a visiting fellow with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.


Is Russia Violating the INF Treaty?
A technical and political analysis
Nikolai Sokov, Miles A. Pomper
The National Interest | February 11, 2014

Is Russia violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty? Press reports have suggested that this is the case, and top Republican legislators are demanding that it act. "We believe it is imperative that Russian officials not be permitted to believe they stand to gain from a material breach of this or any other treaty”—so wrote House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

Such allegations create a highly challenging situation. They will likely further worsen the bilateral US-Russian relationship, which is already at a low point; they are bound to further weaken the prospects of additional reductions of nuclear weapons; and they could complicate President Obama’s efforts to win congressional support for his Iran policy and a key arms control nominee.

There are two allegations. The first concerns the new Yars (RS-26) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which was apparently launched more than once at a distance below the upper limit of the INF treaty (The INF Treaty banned all US and Soviet/Russian land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km). While these tests can cause concern, they do not constitute a violation: RS-26 is, without doubt, a strategic missile (i.e., with a range greater than 5,500 km), and there are no provisions in any existing treaty that prohibit tests to the range below the maximum. The flight tests in question were apparently to assess the defense penetration capabilities of the new missile and thus used the Sary Shagan test range, which specializes in missile defense issues. The second allegation, which has become public recently, concerns an unidentified ground-launched cruise missile. The US Government has reportedly raised these tests with the Russians a number of times, but they have termed it a nonissue and refused to respond further; on January 17, 2014 the United States informed its NATO allies about the concern. A State Department spokesperson clarified, however, that the case was still under review and had not yet been classified as a violation.

The issue of INF compliance encompasses three separate, but closely related strands. One is technical—the substance of allegations, the properties of the missiles in question, and verification issues. Another relates to arms control and strategic concerns—how the INF treaty provisions fit or don’t fit into the Russian national-security strategy. The third is politics—the reasons why allegations about treaty noncompliance continue to surface in public debate and the likely consequences for US foreign policy.

Technical Aspects: The Nature of Concern

The technical issues are a complex maze of engineering, military and legal details. As noted above, Russian tests of the RS-26 ICBM do not represent a violation: nothing in any existing arms-control treaty prohibits tests at reduced ranges. The absence of a lower limit on flight tests of strategic weapons is a heritage of Cold War approaches to arms control: during that time, parties were mostly concerned about maximum capability of weapons systems, be it range or the number of warheads that could be placed on delivery vehicles. There is also a technical reason—it is impossible to prevent failed launches, which could be classified as violations if a minimum distance for test flights is established.

The situation with the new allegation, that of testing a new ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with to an intermediate range (the INF Treaty bans land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km) is more difficult to assess because no tangible details have been publicly revealed. Ballistic missiles which often employ similar rockets to those used for space programs travel a curved trajectory, ascending using their fuel then returning to earth because of gravity; cruise missiles are guided missiles which use fuel throughout their flights and are akin to aerial torpedoes . One likely candidate for the role of the suspicious cruise missile is the R-500, the cruise missile associated with the Iskander system, which was first developed with a ballistic missile.

Iskander was created to replace the SS-23 Oka missile system, which was eliminated under the INF Treaty. The decision to eliminate Oka created an uproar from Soviet military officials who claimed that the range of that system was just below 500 km (450-470 km) and that former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had made such a major concession to the United States without their support . Iskander has the same range as Oka, that is, just below five hundred kilometers, and thus does not violate the INF Treaty. However, there are serious suspicions that its range could be increased if necessary: according to a report by the National Defense University of Finland,[1] at the range-optimizing trajectory the ballistic version of Iskander could have the range of six hundred and perhaps even seven hundred kilometers; the R-500 cruise missile, which has been tested to the range of 360 km, is believed to have a maximum range “several times longer.” If, as many suggest, R-500 is an extension of the Granat (SS-N-21) naval surface-to-surface cruise missile, then it could theoretically have a longer range, indeed.

If the cruise missile referred to by the leak, is, indeed, the R-500, the allegations about possible violation can point at several possibilities:

■ The United States could have detected one or more tests conducted to the range in excess of five hundred kilometers;

■ The United States could have made a measurement error—such measurements have to be conducted by national technical means and thus may be insufficiently precise;

■ Finally, American measurements might be based on the calculation of the range-optimizing trajectory while the Russian data proceeds from the actual operational trajectory, which includes two-dimensional maneuvers to avoid detection and interception by missile defense systems (the operational range could then be below five hundred kilometers while the range-optimizing trajectory could be greater).

In any of these cases, the excess range (above five hundred kilometers) would likely be small and have little or no strategic difference. In that case, the R-500 controversy will likely end up as one of more than a dozen of unresolved implementation issues, which are an unavoidable element of the arms control and reduction process. Indeed, Russia has its own share of complaints about the U.S. record.

There are also a few less likely options. The test, for example could have been of SS-N-21 Granat. Available information suggests that these sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) have been withdrawn from submarines and are stored on shore. At the same time, Russian military regularly tests old, Soviet-produced weapons systems to confirm that they can perform up to specifications. For a variety of reasons, it might be convenient to launch it from land rather from a naval platform. There is also a joint Russian-Indian cruise missile project, BrahMos II, which is intended for a variety of platforms, including on land, but this work is still in early stages.

Or Russia could have tested a new GLCM system with a range well above the five hundred kilometer limit. A full assessment of the strategic and arms control implications of such a system would be difficult to gauge without at least elementary information. Yet, the fact that the State Department has refrained from classifying this case as a violation and instead insisted it was a concern that requires additional assessment and consultations, suggests that a new long-range GLCM (i.e., well above five hundred kilometers) unlikely. Meanwhile, an assessment of Russian arms control and strategic behavior indicates that is unlikely Russia would cheat on the agreement to increase the missile’s range by a mere one hundred or so kilometers.

Arms Control Aspects: The Attitude Toward the INF Treaty in Russia

Opposition to the INF Treaty on part of many influential figures among Russia’s decision-making elite is well known. In 2005, Sergey Ivanov, a close associate of Vladimir Putin and at the time the Minister of Defense, raised the prospect of Russian withdrawal from the INF treaty with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; an ensuing debate in Moscow concluded with a decision not to withdraw, but the idea resurfaces from time to time. The main justification is the development of intermediate-range missiles in countries to the south of Russia—China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, and others. One can say that the fate of the INF Treaty in Russia continues to hang on a very thin thread.

Some have suggested that Russian coolness to the INF Treaty can explain an attempt to quietly circumvent or even violate it. Rather, the opposite is more likely: if Moscow decides the INF Treaty is in the way of R&D programs it considers vital, it will hardly hesitate to withdraw.

At the heart of Russian security strategy is deterring the possible use of high-precision conventional weapons (such as Navy Tomahawk missiles) by the United States and NATO along the lines of wars in Kosovo, Iraq, and elsewhere others over the last decade and a half. Russia’s 2000 Military Doctrine relied on limited use of nuclear weapons against airbases and command and control centers to counter that perceived threat. Reliance on nuclear weapons, however, has been from the very beginning regarded as a stopgap measure until the country develops a modern conventional-deterrence capability. Iskanders appear to fill one of the gaps in such conventional capability (there has been no evidence that Russia has tested these missiles for nuclear warheads, although theoretically this remains a possibility) and in this sense play a vital role in covering a range of potential targets without the threat of a nuclear strike.

If deployed in Kaliningrad oblast, an exclave of Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania, Iskander missiles with the range of approximately five hundred kilometers can reach targets throughout nearly all of Poland and the Baltic states—the area that represents one of the possible staging grounds for NATO strikes. Increasing their range by one hundred or even two hundred kilometers will not radically change that situation.

Therefore, it seems logical that if Russia chose to deploy land-based intermediate-range missiles it would aim at a qualitative leap—acquiring systems with 1,000-1,500 km range. That would allow Russia to put at risk not only more of the European theater also the additional countries to Russia’ south.

Withdrawal from the INF Treaty will hardly constitute a major challenge, if that treaty stands in the way of a capability that Russian leadership regards as vital for further development of conventional deterrence capability. The withdrawal is likely to enjoy support of the majority of the elite; if Putin introduces such a bill into the parliament, it will be adopted without debate or serious opposition. The U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty in 2003 will provide the necessary pretext: like the George W. Bush administration, Moscow can declare that INF is a leftover from the Cold War, that its continued existence undermines the country’s security (with references to missile programs in countries to the south of Russia), and that it does not intend to develop intermediate-range nuclear weapons. Moreover, the state of the US-Russian relationship today is such that abrogation of an old treaty will hardly worsen that relationship any further, from the Russian leadership’s perspective.

Thus, the case that there are significant Russian violations of the INF Treaty appears weak. As noted above, the RS-26 tests do not represent a violation—at most the use of a legal loophole for reasons of convenience. The story about cruise missile tests is still vague, but the fact that US government was reluctant to classify it as a violation suggests plenty of uncertainty. In the history of US-Soviet and US-Russian arms control there have been dozens of similar cases—both parties have raised concern about the actions of the other. The majority of these concerns remained unresolved for years until they lost relevance. As a rule, these are technical issues that are discussed by technical experts outside public eye. Why, then have allegations about possible violation of the INF Treaty surfaced? The reasons for that are likely to be found in alliance and domestic politics rather than in substance of the arms control process.

Political Aspects: US-Russian Relations and US Domestic Politics

One group which has consistently raised questions about the Iskander’s deployment are the Baltic states, particularly Lithuania, which has tended to cite the deployments as a reason to keep U.S. nuclear gravity bombs in Europe, despite support for their withdrawal from many of the more established members of the alliance. News of the suspicious tests leaked after an alliance meeting in January.

Domestically, a letter by a group of Republican members of the House Armed Service Committee, suggests that Republicans sensed an opportunity in the revelations to push back on administration initiatives in several areas such as the further reduction of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and the Iranian nuclear program.

The story broke soon after the an interim nuclear deal with Iran took effect and President Obama threatened to veto any congressional efforts to impose new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. The Armed Services Committee Republicans have argued that the new agreement will permit Iran to cheat without sufficient penalty and argue that the administration’s behavior with Russia proves their case.

Similarly, Republicans have been highly skeptical of Obama’s 2013 proposal to reduce US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads by another third within the framework of the 2010 New START Treaty—from 1,550 to about 1,000. They have been particularly concerned that Obama might seek to make the reductions in a way that bypasses requirements for Senate approval of treaties.

Ironically , in this concern, they have found a de facto common cause with Russian hardliners. Moscow, has demonstrated very considerable reluctance to engage in reductions beyond those mandated by New START. Any action that undermines the prospect of reductions is bound to be welcomed by the Russian government (publicly it will claim otherwise, of course). Moreover, if the initiative appears to come from the United States, Moscow will gain by being able to shift the blame for absence of progress on nuclear disarmament to the other party.

The news also came as the Senate is considering confirmation of Rose Gottemoeller as the lead U.S. arms control diplomat. Gottemoeller, the lead negotiator for the New START treaty, has been acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international policy for several years. She had been expected to be named permanently to the position. But the price of her confirmation may be a resolution of the INF controversy on terms preferred by the opponents of new reductions—namely, forcing Russia into acknowledging treaty violations in a way likely to further disrupt the administration’s arms-control agenda.

Nikolai Sokov is a Senior Fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation. Miles A. Pomper is a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the former editor of Arms Control Today.

[1] Stephan Forss, The Russian Operational-Tactical Missile Iskander Missile System (Helsinki: National Defense University, Department of Strategic and Defense Studies, Series 4, Working Paper No. 42, 2012).