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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov played down the possibility of renewed Cold War-era hostilities after the breakdown of an arms control treaty between Washington and Moscow.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced last week that the U.S. will formally withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) in six months' time and would suspend adherence to the agreement as of last Friday.
Russia followed suit on Saturday by saying that it too had suspended its involvement in the deal, although President Vladimir Putin said "the doors for talks are open." The U.S. also said that it "stands ready to engage with Russia on arms control" if Russia complies with the treaty.
Lavrov said his country was not to blame for the pact's breakdown. "I don't think that we should talk about a new Cold War. A new era has begun, an era when the United States decides to move towards destroying the entire arms control system, which is regrettable," he said, according to news agency TASS.
The INF Treaty was created in 1987 by then-Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and was designed to end decades of bitter relations and arms insecurity between old foes the U.S. and Russia. The treaty states that neither country can produce, possess, or flight-test a ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
Both sides have accused each other of violating the treaty in recent years, however, and diplomatic relations have once again deteriorated.
Russia has said the U.S.' missile defense system in eastern Europe is a violation of the agreement (the U.S. insists the system is to defend itself and Europe from "rogue states"). Meanwhile, the U.S. has said Russia has violated the treaty with what it says is a "non-compliant missile system" called the 9M729 (or SSC-8) system. Russia refutes this, claiming that it's just an updated version of an older missile and actually has a shorter range than its predecessor.
Lavrov insisted that Russia does not want an "arms race" but was ready to respond to military threats if necessary.
"Certainly, we will respond with military-technical means to the threats that are being created as a result of the United States' pullout from the INF Treaty and its plans for creating low-yield nuclear warheads, which, according to all experts in the West, in Russia and in other countries, will drastically lower the threshold of using nuclear weapons," he said.
Alex Brideau, director of Russia and Ukraine at analysis firm Eurasia Group, said the chances of both sides coming to a solution over disputed missiles was unlikely.
"The U.S. and Russian governments are far apart on the disputed Russian missile that is the basis for the withdrawal," Brideau said in a research note Friday.
"Furthermore … the skepticism in President Donald Trump's administration about bilateral arms control treaties will make it far less likely the two could strike a deal on the INF dispute."