Putin invites NATO to conduct mutual missile inspections to reduce post-INF Treaty tensions

30 October 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 26 October 2020 proposed that NATO and Russia should conduct mutual inspections of each other's military bases to secure a moratorium on the deployment of new missiles in Europe after last year's demise of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Both countries pulled out of the treaty last year, blaming each other for violations.

In a statement Putin criticised the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty last year, which led to the collapse of the pact, increasing the risk of an arms race and intensifying Russia-NATO confrontation. Nevertheless, Putin has pledged not to deploy the weapons that were outlawed by the treaty as long as the US doesn't deploy such arms to Europe. Putin reaffirmed " our commitment to the moratorium earlier declared by the Russian Federation on the deployment of ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles until US-manufactured missiles of similar classes appear in the respective regions". He called on NATO countries to declare a similar moratorium to Russia. "We are ready to take further steps based on the principles of equal and indivisible security and balanced consideration of the parties’ interests that are intended to minimize the negative consequences of the collapse of the INF Treaty," Putin said.

The Russian leader proposed mutual verification measures regarding the Aegis Ashore systems with Mk-41 launchers at US and NATO bases in Europe, as well as 9M729 missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad region. He said Russia is ready to refrain from deploying 9M729 missiles in the European part of the country, only if NATO countries take reciprocal steps, excluding the deployment in Europe of weapons previously prohibited by the INF Treaty

Washington and NATO have previously argued that Russia already has deployed missiles that violate the treaty's provisions -- a claim Moscow has rejected. There has been no immediate reaction by NATO to Putin’s latest statement.

Putin’s move comes amid uncertainty surrounding the New START arms control treaty that expires in February 2021. Moscow and Washington have inched toward agreement to extend the pact, their last remaining arms control agreement, but differences have remained. New START dates from 2010, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages on-site inspections to verify compliance.

The INF Treaty, which was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned the production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing because of the shorter time they take to reach targets compared to intercontinental ballistic missiles, raising the likelihood of a nuclear conflict over a false launch alert.