February 12, 2019

The Failure of the Missile Treaty. What's Next?


At the pages of our “Borysfen Intel” Center's website, we have already assessed the situation around the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). However, the further development of events in this sphere requires a return to the touched upon theme. Moreover, it has become the subject of all sorts of political speculations.

For example, February 2, 2019, the USA has officially suspended the fulfillment of its obligations under the INF Treaty. The reason for this was called “Moscow's systematic continued noncompliance with the Treaty, while Washington takes its obligations seriously”. In particular, the United States accuses Russia of creating a 9M729 (SSC-8) missile for the “Iskander-M” operational-tactical complex, with a range of more than 500 km. According to the White House, if Russia does not change its position, in six months the US will finally withdraw from the Treaty.


The United States first raised the issue of the possibility of its withdrawal from the INF Treaty in October 2018. Two months later, the United States gave Russia 60 days to return to full and verifiable compliance with the Treaty. January 15, 2019 this issue was considered during the Geneva talks, but no agreements were reached.

Remember, the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles was signed in 1987. According to it, the USA and the USSR undertook obligations to eliminate and stop the development of all cruise and ballistic missiles ranging from 500 to 5,500 km.

Commenting on these steps of Washington's, US President D. Trump expressed his firm intention to give Moscow a tough military response to its violating the INF Treaty, which “will deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct”. According to him, such a response would include building up US military capabilities, as well as a series of other steps with NATO and other US allies. Despite this, D. Trump pointed out the US willingness to engage with Russia on arms control negotiations.

The United States accuses Russia of systematic continued noncompliance
with the INF Treaty

At the same time, the analysis of US strategic interests, and changes that have taken place in the world since the signing of the INF Treaty, allows us to conclude that Washington has deeper goals than just making Russia fulfill the Treaty. The main ones are:

  • firstly, actualization of the revision of the INF Treaty, which has now completely lost its effectiveness. The reason for this is the emergence of medium-range missiles in the PRC, India, Iran, North Korea and other countries that are not parties to the Treaty and pose potential threats to the US and its allies. Under these circumstances, the USA's demonstrative withdrawal from the INF Treaty poses a critical threat to the security of the world, which may be used by Washington as an occasion to encourage countries with missile potential to jointly address this issue;
  • secondly, getting an advantage (at least temporarily) over Russia and strengthening the US positions within the framework of contradictions between the parties on the whole range of issues concerning their interests. Thus, the USA's withdrawal from the INF Treaty allows it to deploy its missiles near the borders of Russia (including in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania), which will endanger strategically important objects in the Russian territory in the northwest and southwest regions of the country. In turn, Russia will only be able to conduct missile strikes on the northwestern part of Alaska;
  • thirdly, exhausting Russia by imposing on it a new arms race. Compensation of the USA's advantages as a result of the termination of the INF Treaty will make Moscow spend significant money on the development and production of new types of weapons, which is a significant problem when the Russian economy is deteriorating under the influence of Western sanctions.

In fact, this is exactly what the United States did within the framework of the deployment of Pershing II missiles in Germany in 1983, completing Reagan's “Strategic Defense Initiative”. On the one hand, it became a powerful factor in undermining the economy of the USSR due to the need to increase military spending, and on the other hand — it forced it to sign the INF Treaty.

The United States and Soviet Union signed the INF Treaty in 1987

In line with its collective defense commitments, NATO member states supported the USA's withdrawal from the INF Treaty. At this, they expressed regret over Russia's violation the Treaty, and also urged it to change its position. At the same time, some individual members of the Alliance have shown understanding of the increase in the level of threats to European countries, which could become subject to Russia's missile attacks. In view of this, they are seeking to achieve certain compromises with Moscow, and to prevent it from resolving the conflict with the use of missile weapons.

Thus, in the beginning of February 2019, representatives of the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the German Parliament put forward an initiative to preserve the INF Treaty in case of Russia's consent to withdraw its 9M729 missiles beyond the Urals (the proposal was rejected both by NATO and Russia). In turn, on February 4, 2019, the French Air Force conducted a nuclear deterrence mission, which included operational trial of the capabilities of the multipurpose Rafale aircraft by rehearsing a nuclear strike mission.

US missile defense base in Romania

In the current situation, Moscow traditionally demonstrates firmness of positions in defend of the INF Treaty and accused the United States of its non-fulfillment. According to the Russian side, the Mk-41 launchers of anti-missiles SM-3 Block IB (II) of the US missile defense system, deployed in Romania and being deployed in Poland, can be adapted for launching American Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 2.5 thousand km.

At the same time, plans were unveiled to provide an adequate response to the USA's actions, including by developing and deploying new missile systems. In particular, according to the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation S. Shoigu, by 2020 they will have deployed a ground version of the naval complex “Kalibr” with a long-range cruise missile — up to 2.6 thousand km. At the same time, on the basis of 3M22 “Tsirkon” missile, they are going to create a ground missile complex with a hypersonic missile. In addition, is concerned the revival of the Soviet missile RS-10 “Pioneer”, which was withdrawn from service under the INF Treaty.

According to Russian media, the implementation of a number of other projects is not ruled out, including: reducing the launch range of some intercontinental ballistic missiles (for example, creation of a medium-range missile from the first two stages of the ICBM RS-24 “Yars”); development of the ground version of the strategic X-101 missile; updating and deployment of solid-fuel missiles 15Zh59 “Kurier” (was tested in the 1980s, but was not adopted due to the signing in 1991 of the agreement between the US and the USSR on the suspension of the development of light mobile ICBMs).

The stress is also made on the possibility of Russia's deploying missile systems in the Arctic and Chukotka, which would bring them closer to the United States.

Russia’s 9M729 (SSC-8) cruise missile system

However, based on a number of circumstances, the above-mentioned plans of the Russian leadership can be largely declarative and are aimed at putting pressure on the United States and demonstrating the firmness of the Kremlin's positions to the Russian population. Thus, according to the statement made by Deputy Foreign Minister S. Ryabkov, Moscow will not participate in a new arms race and will not let be drawn into it. At this, he directly referred to the lack of funds in the budget of the country, which is true. For the last three years, due to economic problems, Moscow has been systematically reducing military spending.

In this regard, Russia's authorities are objectively interested in establishing relations with the United States and NATO in the security sphere and signals of such intentions. In particular, in February 2019, the experts of the Russian International Affairs Council and the European Leadership Network issued a joint report on possible ways to stabilize relations between Russia and NATO.

According to the views of the authors of the document, this can be achieved even under the current confrontation of the parties. To this end, it is proposed: to increase the level of Russian representation at NATO; to ensure the regularity of the meetings of the NATO-Russia Council; to create a hotline for cyber security; to resume joint table top exercises; to establish in parallel to official contacts, a constructive dialogue between Russia and the Alliance at the level of experts.

Due to economic problems, Russia has been systematically reducing military spending

All this suggests the possibility of launching a dialogue between the United States and Russia on the conclusion of a new agreement on the limitation of medium- and short-range missiles and other countries' joining it. Despite its ambitions, Moscow can take such a step from the point of view of ensuring Russia's security in the absence of funds for strengthening the military potential of the country, and in order to realize its own interests in other important issues.

So, the issue of concluding a new INF Treaty will surely be used by Moscow as an element of bargaining with Washington over Ukraine. In addition, talks on the INF Treaty will open up additional opportunities for Russia's rapprochement with the PRC, Iran and North Korea, on the basis of joint defending of their interests before the United States.

…The failure of the INF Treaty will inevitably lead to increased tensions in the world and directly around Ukraine…

Despite such prospects, the failure of the current Treaty on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles will inevitably lead to increased tensions in the world and directly around Ukraine. In this context, we should expect a significant strengthening of the mutual aggressive rhetoric of the United States and Russia, which will be accompanied by real actions of the parties to deploy new missile systems, as well as provocative demonstrations of their missile potentials and readiness for their use.


The above-mentioned problems will directly affect Ukraine, which remains in the center of the confrontation between Russia and the West and is geographically located between them. With this in view, it is on the borders of our state that new missile systems of the Russian Federation and the United States/NATO may be deployed. The importance of Ukraine for both sides will be of a qualitatively new level in terms of the possibility of deploying missiles also in its territory. And, therefore, we should expect further intensification of the struggle for Ukraine between Russia and the West.

At the same time, as we have already mentioned in our previous publications, the termination of the Treaty on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles removes all moral barriers for the development of such missiles by Ukraine. In turn, this will become a powerful factor in deterring Moscow from expanding the scope of its armed aggression against our state. This issue becomes of special relevance to Ukraine in the conditions of Russia's advantages in combat aviation and missile potentials.