MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military on Friday to work out a quid pro quo response after the test of a new U.S. missile banned under a now-defunct arms treaty.
In Sunday’s test, a modified ground-launched version of a U.S. Navy Tomahawk cruise missile accurately struck its target more than 310 miles away. The test came after Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
Speaking at a meeting of his Security Council, Putin charged that the U.S. waged a “propaganda campaign” alleging Russian breaches of the pact to “untie its hands to deploy the previously banned missiles in different parts of the world.”
He ordered the Defense Ministry and other agencies to “take comprehensive measures to prepare a symmetrical answer.”
The U.S. said it withdrew from the treaty because of Russian violations, a claim that Moscow has denied.
In an interview this week with Fox News, Defense Secretary Mark Esper asserted that the Russian cruise missiles Washington has long claimed were a violation of the now-defunct Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty, might be armed with nuclear warheads.
“Right now Russia has possibly nuclear-tipped cruise — INF-range cruise missiles facing toward Europe, and that, that’s not a good thing,” Esper said.
The Russian leader noted that Sunday’s test was performed from a launcher similar to those deployed at a U.S. missile defense site in Romania. He argued that the Romanian facility and a prospective similar site in Poland could also be loaded with missiles intended to hit ground targets instead of interceptors.
Putin has previously pledged that Russia wouldn’t deploy the missiles previously banned by the INF Treaty to any area before the U.S. does that first, but he noted Friday that the use of the universal launcher means that a covert deployment is possible.
“How would we know what they will deploy in Romania and Poland — missile defense systems or strike missile systems with a significant range?” Putin said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Robert Carver, disputed Putin’s assertion that the land-based U.S. missile defense system in Romania could be used to launch ground-attack missiles. He said the U.S. launch system in Romania, known as Aegis Ashore, “does not have the capability to fire offensive weapons of any kind,” including a cruise missile like the Tomahawk variant used in the Aug. 18 U.S. test.