The White House is just now publicly calling out Russia on violation of a missile treaty despite years of knowing that President Vladimir Putin was out of compliance.
At the end of January, The New York Times cited anonymous U.S. officials as saying Russia has been testing medium-range nuclear missiles since 2008. Washington reportedly brought up the issue with Russia several times since suspicions surfaced in 2012 and was taking its concerns over compliance to NATO.
The report meant that Russia was testing the ground-launched cruise missile in potential defiance of the treaty when Obama lobbied the Senate hard to ratify the New START Treaty in 2009 despite lawmakers’ concerns about Russia and the administration’s attitude toward the U.S. stockpile.
“It may not have the same visual and emotional impact as Russian troops entering Ukraine, or the shooting down of a civilian airliner, but when one imagines all of the actions Putin could take to destabilize Europe, violating the INF Treaty is right up there,” Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said today.
“My colleagues and I have been pressing the Obama administration on this issue for years. It is senseless that it took so long for us to not only call these Russian actions a violation, but also that it took so long for us to brief our NATO allies, and confront the Russians in the first place,” Risch said. “Saving INF just hasn’t been a priority for President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Secretary Kerry.”
In one of the more recent actions to draw attention to the violations, members of Congress in March pushed the Obama administration to hold Moscow accountable and stop depleting the U.S. stockpile while Russia cheats.
Concurrent resolutions were introduced — by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) in the House and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the upper chamber — “expressing the sense of Congress that the President should hold the Russian Federation accountable for being in material breach of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.” The bills haven’t made it out of committee.
Noting that Russia’s “material breach” of the treaty “poses a threat to the United States, its deployed forces, and its allies,” the resolution calls on Obama to “demand the Russian Federation completely and verifiably eliminate the military systems that constitute the material breach of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration finally determined “that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.”
“Specifically, the 2014 Compliance Report, which is something that we have filed on an annual basis. Includes the determination that the Russian Federation is violation of that treaty and that treaty’s obligations not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” Earnest said. “This is a very serious matter, which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now.”
“…I know that there have been reports that the president informed President Putin, via letter, of our determination and as an indication that this is a matter that merits the serious attention of the leaders of both the United States and Russia.”
When asked why, if Congress had been raising the issue for many months, the White House is just now addressing it, Earnest said “these determinations are rooted primarily in the kind of intelligence analysis that I can’t discuss from the podium.”
Earnest was reminded that the White House has known about the reports of violations since 2008.
“It is correct that the concerns that we’ve had about this have been raised with the Russians. It’s correct that our concerns have been discussed inside the administration for some time. And it’s correct to assume that we’ve had conversations with our partners on the relevant committees in Congress about this as well,” he said. “The reason for all of that consultation and careful study is that the INF treaty, as it is known, is an important part of our national security. It also provides for the national security of the people of Russia. It also provides for the national security of some of our strongest allies, both in western Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“So this is a top priority. That is why it has been raised at the presidential level. And we’re going to continue to work with Russia. We’ve offered to engage in a high-level dialogue with them, so that they can resolve our concerns of this matter.”
Earnest was repeatedly asked if the administration is concerned about Russia using the missiles or making them available to other states.
“We are concerned with ensuring that the Russians live up to the commitments that they made in the context of the INF treaty for a whole host of reasons, certainly proliferation — the proliferation risk associated with these kinds of weapons is — is part of the wide range of concerns that makes this treaty such an important document, OK?” he replied.