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Vladimir Putin orders Russia to respond after U.S. missile test

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 23, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian businessmen Valery Abramov and Victor Perevalov from a company constructing Tavrida highway during their meeting in Sevastopol, Crimea, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. (Alexei Druzhinin / Associated Press)
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian businessmen Valery Abramov and Victor Perevalov from a company constructing Tavrida highway during their meeting in Sevastopol, Crimea, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. (Alexei Druzhinin / Associated Press)
By Vladimir Isachenkov Associated Press

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 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 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.

“It can only launch the SM-3 interceptor, which does not carry an explosive warhead,” Carver said, adding that it would take “industrial-level construction to reconfigure it to fire offensive weapons. That reconfiguration would entail major equipment installation and software changes.”

Russia long has charged that the U.S. launchers loaded with missile defense interceptors could be used for firing surface-to-surface missiles. Putin said Sunday’s test has proven that the U.S. denials have been false.

“It’s indisputable now,” the Russian leader said.

He added the missile test that came just 16 days after the INF treaty’s termination has shown that the U.S. had long ago started work on the new systems banned by the treaty.

While Putin hasn’t spelled out possible retaliatory measures, some Moscow-based military experts theorized that Russia could adapt the sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles for use from ground launchers.

The Interfax news agency quoted a retired Russian general, Vladimir Bogatyryov, as saying that Moscow could put such missiles in Cuba or Venezuela if the U.S. deploys new missiles near Russian borders.

Putin said Russia will continue working on new weapons in response to the U.S. moves, but will keep a tight lid on spending.

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