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Putin orders ‘symmetric response’ to U.S. missile test

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a like-for-like response to a recent U.S. missile test, which he said showed that Washington aimed to deploy previously banned missiles around the world. (Video: Reuters)

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian government agencies Friday to prepare a “symmetric response” to a recent U.S. missile test.

He castigated Washington for pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on Aug. 2 and then launching a new land-based cruise missile just 16 days later. These actions, he said, were both “links in a chain,” and showed that the United States had a concerted plan to junk the treaty, signed in 1987.

Putin gave the order at an impromptu meeting with his national security council.

“Considering the newly emerging circumstances, I instruct the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and other specialized agencies to analyze the level of the threat, which the above-mentioned U.S. moves are creating for our country, and take comprehensive measures for preparing a symmetric response,” he said.

He said that Russia will not engage in a costly arms race, but he promised to ensure national security.

U.S. tests first intermediate-range missile since withdrawing from treaty with Russia

The U.S. military tested a Tomahawk cruise missile on Sunday, launching it from San Nicolas Island off the California coast. Flying more than 310 miles, it would have violated the INF treaty if the agreement were still in force.

American declarations that new missile systems are to be deployed first in the Far East are not reassuring, Putin said. “American politicians of quite a high rank and level are saying that the Asia-Pacific region could be the first to host new systems, but it also affects our core interests, because all this is in the immediate proximity of Russian borders,” he said. The statement was posted on the Kremlin website.

The United States' plan to scrap this Cold War treaty raises fears of another nuclear arms buildup. (Video: William Neff/The Washington Post)

A retired military expert told the Interfax news agency that Russia may choose to design a ground-launched Kalibr weapon system as that symmetric response to the new U.S. cruise missile.

“We have a very simple answer. Our Kalibr, which is currently launched from ships, can also be fired by self-propelled launchers,” said Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, the former head of a defense research institute. “We can do that; it is not difficult.

“The speed of possible deployment is the question. We will not deploy them before the Americans do. If the Americans deploy their missiles in the Asia-Pacific region, we will scratch our head and think how to act. We cannot deploy many in that area because our strategic ally, China, is there. So I think the speed will be moderate, and the deployment will be limited to our territory,” he added.

A member of the Russian Federation Council’s defense and security committee, Franz Klintsevich, said the deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles in response to the United States would take one to two years.

A deputy in the Duma suggested that Russian deployment of missile systems in Venezuela would be an effective response, Interfax reported.

“There might be a Cuban missile crisis-like situation, but it was the Cuban missile crisis that cooled the Americans’ heads for a long time,” said Alexander Sherin, a member of the defense committee, referring to the 1962 standoff between Washington and Moscow.

“If such a system is placed in Venezuela, they will have to be more careful,” he said.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, an independent think tank, urged a measured response by Russia. He tweeted: “Amid all post-INF infowar hype, Russia needs to keep its head cool and remember lesson of Cold War: symmetrical arms race with US will be ruinous. Strategic stability requires maintaining credible deterrence, not matching all of rival’s moves.”

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