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The New York Times is reporting that the United States has raised concerns with NATO over Russia supposedly testing a new cruise missile. Testing a medium-range cruise missile could be in violation of a 1987 nuclear arms treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev.

Officials at the State Department believe that Russia's missile testing could have begun as early as five years ago, although they have stopped short of officially declaring it a violation of the treaty. Russian officials responded to the State Department that they had investigated the claims and closed the case.

Josh Rogin at The Daily Beast reported on the State Department's knowledge of possible INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Force) treaty violations back in November, writing that Russia "plans to continue testing two missiles in ways that could violate the terms of the treaty: the SS-25 road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and the newer RS-26 ICBM."

There is some inconsistency in reports about exactly how the tests may violate the treaty. The Times writes:

The Russians have flight-tested [the RS-26 missile] at medium range, according to intelligence assessments, and the prevailing view among Western officials is that it is intended to help fill the gap in Russia’s medium-range missile capabilities that resulted from the 1987 treaty. The treaty defines medium-range missiles as ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of flying 300 to 3,400 miles.

However, if the missile's flight exceeds that 3,400-mile range, it becomes classified as intercontinental (the "IC" in "ICBM"). The 1987 treaty only applies to intermediate-range missiles. An intercontinental missile would fall under the purview of a different treaty, New START, negotiated by the Obama administration. So, as the Times puts it, "it is generally considered by Western officials to be a circumvention, but not a violation, of the 1987 treaty."

On January 17, Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department's Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, discussed the tests at a closed-door NATO meeting.


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