Russia has reportedly deployed fully operational cruise missile units in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. This 1987 agreement between Russia and the United States bans ground-based nuclear or conventional intermediate-range missiles. (This is defined as systems with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers — 300 to 3,400 miles.) In 2014, the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Russia's test of a system Washington said violated the treaty. On Feb. 14, the New York Times reported that military units equipped with the system were moved in December to an operational military base in an unspecified location while the other remains at a testing site near Volgograd.
The new U.S. administration signaled in January that it may ease sanctions on Russia in exchange for a nuclear arms reduction deal. This has fueled speculation that this could translate into a fresh arms control agreement or reinvigorate those pacts already in place. But U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreements — and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty in particular — have come under pressure by advancing technology and the rise of new global powers.
The United States has long criticized alleged Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, centering on the SSC-8 cruise missile but also extending to Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles being tested at intermediate range. It appears that Moscow has decided to brush these criticisms aside and move ahead with deploying such missiles. The recent alleged violation will shake the credibility of a treaty that is already weakening. It will have broad ramifications in terms of overall arms control agreements and the opening for Washington and Moscow to develop and deploy previously prohibited missiles around the globe.