Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the US that if it walks out of a key arms treaty and starts developing banned missiles then Moscow will do the same.
Mr Putin’s remarks to Russian news agencies came a day after US secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced at a Nato meeting that Washington will suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 60 days, citing Russian “cheating”.
Russia has denied violating the treaty.
President Donald Trump earlier this year announced his decision to withdraw from the INF, which has been described as a cornerstone of global security, accusing Russia and China — which is not a signatory to the treaty — of violating it.
Mr Putin said on Wednesday that the US decision to ditch the INF means Washington has decided the US “has to have these weapons”.
Mr Putin said of Moscow’s response: “We will do the same.”
The US shared intelligence with Nato allies that it says shows Russia’s new SSC-8 ground-fired cruise missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice. Russia has denied the accusations.
Mr Putin accused Washington of making up excuses for pulling out of the pact, saying the US first made up its mind to walk out and only then “started to look for the reasons why they should do it”.
“It seems that our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that the US has to have this type of weapons,” he said in televised remarks. “What would be our response? A very simple one: in that case, we will do the same.”
Speaking at a briefing of foreign military attaches earlier, General Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian military, warned of a Russian response and said countries that host US intermediate-range missiles would become immediate targets.
When signed in 1987, the INF treaty was lauded as a major safeguard for global security as it eliminated shorter-range missiles that take just a few minutes to reach their targets.
The removal of such weapons would in theory allow more time for decision-making in case of a warning of a missile attack.
US ally Germany, which has been keen to preserve the treaty, called on Russia to try to save it.
“The INF treaty is of great significance for security in Europe,” government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said in Berlin.
“The German government welcomes the fact that the American government is giving its preservation another chance,” she added, referring to the 60-day deadline. She also noted that the issue came up in a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Trump in Argentina on Saturday.
“It is now up to Russia to avert the end of the treaty,” Ms Demmer said.