The U.S.’s decision to pull out from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has led to a concerted round of criticism from Russia.
The treaty, signed in 1987 between Ronald Reagan and Soviet head Mikhail Gorbachev, presented one of the lasting agreements between Moscow and Washington, effectively barring all short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles. (Similar missiles could still be launched from the air or from sea-based vehicles.)
Washington, though, has spent years accusing Moscow of ignoring the treaty’s restrictions — a point both the Obama and Trump administrations have agreed on.
The State Department, in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, stated that the United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF
— Boris Zilberman (@rolltidebmz) October 21, 2018
On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump finally confirmed rumors and reports from the past few weeks, saying that the U.S. would be pulling out of the treaty entirely. “We’re not going to let [Russia] violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” he said.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet commented on the U.S. withdrawal directly, high-ranking Russian officials expressed their animus toward the U.S.’s move.
“We condemn the continuing attempts to achieve Russia’s concessions through blackmail,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov said. Ryabkov added that the INF Treaty “creates problems for pursuing the line towards U.S. total domination in the military sphere.”
Another Russian official, Russian Federation Council member Konstantin Kosachev, claimed that the U.S. withdrawal could trigger outright war.
The U.S.’s move appears to stem from a pair of realities. On the one hand, as both the current and previous administrations have said, Russia has repeatedly violated the tenets of the INF Treaty, especially in the aftermath of Moscow’s invasion and ongoing occupation of parts of Ukraine.
On the other hand, as The New York Times noted, the U.S. withdrawal may actually have less to do with Russia and more to do with China, which is not a signatory to the treaty. Washington’s decision to scrap its participation in the treaty could theoretically help the U.S. push back against Chinese expansionism in the Western Pacific.
As it is, the U.S. withdrawal will almost certainly dent Russians’ views on Trump, which have plummeted after a brief post-2016 honeymoon. As the Pew Research Center found earlier this month, a poll querying Russians about their confidence in Trump’s leadership saw his numbers collapse from 53 percent to 19 percent over the past year — lower now than the rate of Americans’ confidence in Putin.