MOSCOW, Russia - After trading accusations over alleged violations of the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (IRN) Treaty, in October, the U.S. officially announced that it would scrap the pact.
Despite proactively pursuing better ties with Russia, the U.S. President Donald Trump dealt a deadly blow to the increasingly frail bilateral ties, after he first revealed his intentions to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark treaty.
While his announcement was quickly dubbed as a 'Trumpesque tactic' and was compared to his previous strategy through which he managed to renegotiate NAFTA - two days after the President's announcement, the U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton travelled to Russia and officially conveyed the message.
Trump's threat to exit yet another international pact - especially one that involves a nuclear arms control framework that emerged from the Cold War, caused widespread fears.
Allies feared that America's exit from the INF would imperil transatlantic security, while Russia called it "blackmail" and warned that Trump was threatening to trigger an arms race that would inevitably jeopardize global stability.
Despite rising global fears of an arms race and war, Trump emphasized that the U.S. would build up its overall nuclear arsenal, if necessary.
He said, "We have more money than anybody else by far. We'll build it up until they come to their senses. When they do, then we'll all be smart, and we'll all stop. And by the way not only stop, we'll reduce, which I would love to do. But right now, they have not adhered to the agreement."
Comply or suffer
Earlier this week, the Western military alliance NATO, formally accused Russia of breaking the treaty.
The NATO Foreign Ministers' statement said, "Allies have concluded that Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security."
Further, NATO emphasized that the member nations "strongly support" the U.S. claim that Russia is in breach of the pact.
The military alliance called on Russia to "return urgently to full and verifiable compliance."
Following the NATO statement, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a harsher tone and slammed Russia's "flagrant disregard" of the terms of the treaty.
The top American diplomat declared that the U.S. was giving Russia "60 days to return to compliance with the treaty," and threatened that after the deadline, the U.S. would suspend its own compliance.
Pompeo announced, "During this 60 days we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we'll see what happens during this 60-day period."
He further stated, "Russia's reply has been consistent: deny any wrongdoing, demand more information, and issue baseless counter-accusations."
Pompeo also accused Russia of filling multiple battalions of the SSC-8 missiles.
He said, "If Russia admits its violations and fully and verifiably comes back into compliance, we will of course welcome that course of action. But Russia, and Russia only, can take this step."
Further, the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Russia of "duplicitous violation of the INF Treaty."
Russia's open challenge
U.S. threats made earlier this week, were met with strong Russian defiance, with the country's president Vladimir Putin warning that Russia would start developing the missiles banned under the Treaty if the U.S. exits the pact.
Trump has accused Russia of violating the terms of the Treaty that was negotiated in December 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The INF treaty, which bans nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles, has caused friction between the world's two most powerful nations for years.
Both the countries have accused each other of violations of the 31-year-old agreement over the last decade.
Most recently, in 2014, Trump's predecessor Barack Obama accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty, citing ground-launched cruise missile tests that dated back to 2008.
It was revealed at the time that the U.S. informed its NATO allies of Russia's suspected breach, however, the military alliance officially declared Russia's activity as a likely violation only recently.
Even though Obama was resolutely in favor of exiting the pact in 2014, he decided against the move after European allies raised concerns over the move triggering an arms race.
U.S. authorities believe that Moscow has already deployed a ground-launched system in violation of the INF treaty and could launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice.
Trump has stated, "Russia has violated the agreement. They've been violating it for many years."
He has also raised the prospect of developing a new set of weapons and argued, "If Russia's doing it and if China's doing it and we're adhering to the agreement – that's unacceptable."
In October, Trump said, "And I don't know why President Obama didn't negotiate or pull out. And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to. We're the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we've honored the agreement. But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we're going to terminate the agreement. We're gonna pull out."
However, Russia has repeatedly denied U.S. allegations that it has produced and tested a missile in violation of the treaty.
Responding to Pompeo's recent threat a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry said Russia "scrupulously abides by the provisions of the treaty, and the U.S. side knows this."
Further, Putin has argued that the accusation by the U.S. is a pretext for the country to leave the pact.
He said in televised comments on Wednesday that many other countries had developed weapons banned under the INF treaty.
Putin said, "Now it seems our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that [they] must also have such a weapon. What's our response? It's simple - in that case we will also do this."