A former Russian nuclear commander said U.S. antimissile tests that use medium-range targets have technically breached a bilateral accord "numerous" times.
"Formally, they violate the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty," said retired Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, the onetime head of Russia's strategic missile forces, at a press conference. "But as a military man I understand that they are not deploying the weapons. They are creating target missiles, which they are only using at missile-defense testing grounds. They are not going to add them to their arsenals."
"A violation is there, but in essence it is not the kind of violations that should worry Russia," Interfax on Wednesday quoted Yesin as saying.
The former general was responding to U.S. media reports on Washington's concerns that Russia's trial firings of a new ground-launched cruise missile constituted a breach of the 1987 arms control pact, which bans both former Cold War rivals from possessing, developing or testing any missile with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.
The U.S. violations "were a lot more numerous" than those Moscow is being accused of, Yesin said. "We started voicing these claims to the United States," he said, "way before 2008," when the Russian tests that raise compliance issues are believed to have begun.
Yesin said he was not familiar with the specific missile that is the source of recent U.S. concerns.
Any issues that either nation has with the other's compliance with the bilateral accord are being handled through diplomatic avenues, he said.
"The Russian foreign and defense ministries did not side-step this problem. But it is being tackled by way of diplomacy, without media coverage," Yesin said.
Some Republican lawmakers have called on the Obama administration to formally declare Russia in breach of the INF accord. One reason the administration is thought by experts to have refrained thus far from taking such a public step is that it could cause Moscow to withdraw entirely from the pact.
The United States is not within striking distance of any other nuclear weapon state's intermediate-range missiles. Russia, however, could potentially be targeted by multiple nations with medium-range nuclear weapons, including China or India.