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Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia. Photo by Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters

Putin suspends Russian obligations under INF nuclear pact

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Monday suspended Russia’s participation in a key nuclear arms treaty, in response to Washington’s decision to withdraw.

In a decree, Putin suspended Russia’s obligations under the terms of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty and said it will continue to do so “until the U.S. ends its violations of the treaty or until it terminates.”

Putin’s order came as Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the head of the Russian military’s General Staff, met in Vienna with U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for talks on strategic stability. The INF treaty was one of the issues discussed in what the Russia’s Defense Ministry described as “constructive” talks.

The U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the INF a month ago, setting the stage for it to terminate in six months unless Moscow returns to compliance. Russia has denied any breaches, and accused the U.S. of violating the pact.

The U.S. has accused Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates provisions of the pact that ban production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).

The move also reflected President Donald Trump’s administration’s view that the treaty was an obstacle to efforts needed to counter intermediate-range missiles deployed by China, which isn’t part of the treaty.

Russia has charged that the U.S. has breached the pact by deploying missile defense facilities in eastern Europe that could fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors — a claim rejected by the U.S.

The collapse of the INF Treaty has stoked fears of a replay of a Cold War-era Europe missile crisis, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent during the 1980s.

Such weapons take shorter time to reach their targets compared to intercontinental ballistic missiles, and their deployment was seen as particularly destabilizing, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

Putin has warned the U.S. against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying that Russia will retaliate by fielding new fast weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets.

At the United Nations, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres holds a strong hope that Moscow and Washington could resolve their differences over the treaty in the coming months.

“The INF is a very important part of the international arms control architecture,” Dujarric said.

“It has contributed tangibly to the maintenance of peace and stability, notably in Europe.”

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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