April 23, 2019

The United States calls on Russia to comply with INF Treaty

By Guido Lanfranchi.

On January 18th and 19th, United States Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson travelled to Geneva and Brussels to discuss the future of the INF Treaty with Russia and with NATO Allies. The deadline for Russia to return to compliance with the Treaty is set to February 5th. Continued violations by Russia – U/S Thompson said – will lead the US to suspend its obligations.

A few hours ahead of a deadline set for today February 5th, the United States and Russia are seeking to iron out their differences regarding compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty.

The INF Treaty is an arms control treaty that dates back to 1988, when US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to eliminate ground-launched nuclear and conventional missiles with intermediate or shorter range. Recently, the US has grown increasingly critical of the Treaty, threatening to withdraw from it on account of persisting lack of compliance on Russian side.

On January 18th, the two parties met in Geneva for talks on INF compliance. The US delegation was led by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Ms. Andrea Thompson, while the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Sergei Ryabkov, headed the Russian team. In the wake of the meeting, U/S Thompson flew to Brussels, where she held consultations with NATO Allies and sought their backing.

From Brussels, Ms. Thompson briefed the press on the outcome of her talks and on the way forward. U/S Thompson outlined the key messages that the US delegation tried to convey to its Russian counterparts. In the US view, over the last five years Russia has breached the INF Treaty’s provisions for more than 30 times. In spite of a more permissive attitude in the past, the US is not intentioned anymore to turn a blind eye on this issue: if the Treaty is to be preserved – U/S Thompson stressed – “Russia must return to full and verifiable compliance” with it.

While praising the quality of the delegations sent to Geneva and the professional, open atmosphere in which the negotiations took place, Ms. Thompson noted that “disappointingly but not surprisingly” no breakthrough was achieved. Russia has been putting the blame on the US for such failure, with Foreign Minister Mr. Sergei Lavrov accusing the US of not being willing to hold serious talks, and the Russian delegation raising questions about the compliance of US missile defense launchers.

Dismissing such claims as “rhetoric” and false allegations, Ms. Thompson put the whole blame on Russia, accusing it of not providing sufficient and verifiable proof of compliance. If Russia will not properly address its non-compliance within February 5th – Ms. Thompson said – the US will be compelled to reciprocate, and to suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty, for instance by starting research and development activities prohibited under the deal.

While other bilateral arms control agreements, such as for instance the New START, would not be directly affected by such developments, U/S Thompson noted that Russia’s continued lack of compliance with the INF Treaty would surely send a negative signal on Russia’s reliability as a partner at large.

While up to now diplomacy has not managed to yield positive results on the INF Treaty issue, doors remain open for negotiations. In the wake of the Geneva talks, no further sessions focused on this issue have been scheduled ahead of the February 5th deadline.

Nevertheless, Ms. Thompson noted that meetings in other frameworks, such as the upcoming NATO-Russia Council, might well provide avenues for discussing the INF Treaty in the margins, hopefully with a view to finding a diplomatic solution before February. The INF Treaty is of critical importance not only for the US and Russia, but for the whole international community.

Good luck to the negotiators: any good solutions would be more than welcome.

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