Russia accused the U.S. of escalating military tensions following the test of a cruise missile that would have been prohibited by a recently-terminated arms control treaty between the two nations.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday the U.S. test was "regrettable," Russia's TASS news agency reported. "It is noteworthy that the test of an advanced Tomahawk missile took place literally 16 days after the United States withdrew from the INF Treaty and the termination of this treaty," Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
The Pentagon said Monday that it had tested a cruise missile the previous day that hit its target after more than 500km (310 miles) of flight.
It's the first such test since the U.S. pulled out of the long-standing "Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty" (INF treaty) with Russia, aimed at arms control. The treaty stated that neither the U.S. nor Russia could produce, possess, or flight-test ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Both sides accused the other of violating the agreement before it collapsed this year.
Russia's deputy foreign minister accused the U.S. of developing the cruise missile before it had officially withdrawn from the Cold-War era arms control treaty on August 2, however.
"There can probably be no more clear and explicit confirmation that the development of the corresponding systems was carried out in the United States for a long time and in preparation to withdraw from the contract," he said.
The official added that Russia does "not succumb to provocations" and would not deploy medium-range ground systems "until such systems are deployed by the United States in any region of the world."
The U.S. Department of Defense defended the cruise missile test from Russian criticism, with a Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla M. Gleason telling CNBC Tuesday that, "as part of the U.S. integrated response to Russia's violations of the INF Treaty, the United States announced it would commence Treaty-compliant research and development of conventional, ground-launched missile concepts in late 2017."
She also noted the U.S. had not violated the treaty while it was still intact. "Following the U.S. suspension of its obligations under the INF Treaty in February 2019, the DOD (Department of Defense) began conceptual design activities on ground-launched cruise missile and ballistic missile systems. The United States stated that following withdrawal from the INF Treaty, it would engage in research and development of conventional, ground-launched cruise missiles and ballistic missiles."
"This test demonstrates the U.S. commitment to conducting that research and development. Development of a conventional ground-launched cruise missile system is in the early stages of testing, and it will be years before any operational system is ready for deployment," Gleason added.
The INF treaty was signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It was designed to end decades of tension and insecurity between the U.S. and Russia surrounding nuclear arms development and proliferation.
The U.S. accused Russia of flouting the agreement, however, and announced in October that it would withdraw from the INF treaty before doing so on August 2. Russian President Vladimir Putin formally suspended Russia's
participation in the deal in July. Russia has also accused the U.S. of violating the deal.
Both sides deny violating the agreement. Experts acknowledge that the INF treaty was a landmark achievement for its time but that much has changed since 1987 given the rise of other military superpowers like China.