Russia staged a presentation of the SSC-8 land-based cruise missile for foreign observers on Wednesday, insisting the weapon does not violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) as the United States alleges.
The Russians trundled an SSC-8 (the official Russian designation is “Novator 9M729”) to a military theme park near Moscow, which the New York Times found a “slightly odd” venue for the presentation. A Russian soldier proceeded to jab at parts of the missile with a laser pointer while a general talked about how treaty-compliant they were.
Nothing about this presentation addressed the point raised by American and European critics that observers cannot determine the flight capabilities of a missile by merely looking at it.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed the United States has not presented any data proving the SSC-8 violates the INF, which again misses the point about allowing inspectors to test the missile and determine exactly what it is capable of.
The United States — along with the U.K., France, and Germany — declined Russia’s invitation to the theme park presentation because they insisted “static displays” are worthless. The NATO allies were no more willing to accept technical documents provided by the Russians without any verifiable proof.
Ryabkov criticized the United States for being unwilling to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the INF. The official U.S. position is that Russia has until February 2 to destroy the noncompliant missile system or Washington will withdraw from the treaty, designed to prevent short- and medium-range ground-based missiles from threatening Europe.
The Russians claim the SSC-8 has a maximum range of 298 miles — which, even if verifiably accurate, would be a very close shave against the INF’s ban on weapons with a range of 310 miles or greater. The U.S. government has maintained since 2014 that the SSC-8’s maximum range is actually greater than 310 miles, so Russian deployment violates the INF.
“Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later said that Russia had suggested the two nations hold talks on the issue on the sidelines of a meeting of the P5 nuclear powers in Beijing later this month, but had not received ‘a concrete reply,’” Reuters reported on Thursday.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, former U.S. ambassador and current president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace William Burns warned 2019 is shaping up to be “as consequential a year for nuclear order since the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Burns thought the INF treaty likely to collapse and predicted the 2010 “New START” deal on nuclear missile launchers could follow when it expires in 2021.
“For better or worse, America and Russia have unique capabilities and responsibilities on nuclear issues and when we are not living up to them it tends to inspire the worst behaviors on the part of other countries,” Burns said.
Conversely, Angela Kane of the Vienna Center postulated that both Russia and the United States want out of the INF treaty because they are both confronting other adversaries with extensive land-based missile inventories.
“I’m guessing here, but I’m extrapolating that the U.S wants to develop missiles that could also be directed against China or other countries such as Iran or North Korea,” said Kane.