MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday rejected the U.S. claim that Russia developed a new cruise missile in violation of a key nuclear treaty, arguing that Russia has no need for such a land-based weapon because it already has similar missiles on its ships and aircraft.
Washington warned this month it would suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 60 days if Russia did not return to full compliance. The U.S. claims the 9M729 cruise missile breaches the INF, which bans all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles.)
Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusation. Speaking to Russia's top military brass Tuesday, Putin rejected the U.S. claim of developing a land-based cruise missile, saying Russia now has similar air- and sea-launched weapons to do the job.
Putin said the Russian military has successfully tested air-launched Kh-101 and sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles with a range of 4,500 kilometers (2,790 miles) in combat in Syria.
"It has probably made our partners worry, but it doesn't violate the INF treaty," Putin said.
Putin said the treaty signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev didn't limit sea- and air-launched cruise missiles, which the Soviet Union didn't have at the time and the United States did in significant numbers.
The Russian president argued that the pact represented "unilateral disarmament" for the Soviet Union, adding: "God only knows why the Soviet leadership did it."
He emphasized that with Russian strategic bombers and navy ships now armed with long-range cruise missiles, it makes the development of similar land-based weapons redundant.
"It makes no difference whatsoever if we have a Kalibr-armed submarine or aircraft carrying missiles or similar weapons ashore," he said. "We can strike any targets within the range of 4,500 kilometers from the territory of Russia."
Putin added, however, that Russia could easily build such land-based missiles if the U.S. opts out of the INF Treaty, which he described as a key stabilizing factor.
"If we have similar air- and sea-launched systems, it wouldn't be that difficult for us to do some research and development to put them on land if needed," he said.
Putin added that Russia also has other new weapons that aren't banned by the INF, such as the air-launched Kinzhal hypersonic missile and the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, saying that they have significantly bolstered Russia's military capability.
"No one has hypersonic weapons yet, but we have it," he said.
Kinzhal has already been commissioned by the military, which put them in service with a squadron of MiG-31 fighter jets.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the aircraft carrying missiles have flown 89 patrol missions over the Caspian and the Black Seas this year.
Shoigu said the Avangard will enter service with the military next year.
Putin suggested that other countries that built intermediate-range missiles should be engaged in talks on a possible new agreement.
"Why not start talks on their accession to the treaty, or discuss parameters of a new agreement?" he said.