First a spy ship off the US East Coast, now a banned missile.
According to the NYT, Russia has (not so) "secretly" deployed a new ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missile in violation of a 1987 treaty with the US which helped end the Cold War, despite complaints from American officials.
Reportedly, the move presents a "major challenge for President Trump, who has vowed to improve relations with President Vladimir Putin" and comes at a very sensitive time for Trump, currently reeling to stabilize the fallout from Flynn's departure over his communication with Russia. The new Russian missile deployment also comes as the Trump administration is struggling to fill key policy positions at the State Department and the Pentagon — and to settle on a permanent replacement for Michael Flynn.
The ground-launched cruise missile at the center of American concerns is one that the Obama administration said in 2014 had been tested in violation of a 1987 treaty that bans American and Russian intermediate-range missiles based on land.
Back in 2014, a State Department annual report on international compliance with arms control agreements said that “the United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the I.N.F. treaty not to possess, produce or flight test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles."
As the NYT adds, the Obama administration had sought to persuade the Russians to correct the violation while the missile was still in the test phase. Instead, the Russians have moved ahead with the system, deploying a fully operational unit.
Administration officials said the Russians now have two battalions of the prohibited cruise missile. One is still located at Russia’s missile test site at Kapustin Yar in the country’s southeast.
The other was shifted in December from that test site to an operational base elsewhere in the country, according to a senior official who did not provide further details and requested anonymity to discuss recent intelligence reports about the missile.
In light of this news, the NYT predicts that it is unlikely that the Senate would agree to ratify a new strategic arms control accord unless the alleged violation of the intermediate-range treaty is corrected. Trump has said the United States should “strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” But at the same time, he has talked of reaching a new arms agreement with Moscow that would reduce arms “very substantially.”
Before he left his post last year as the NATO commander and retired from the military, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove warned that deployment of the cruise missile would be a militarily significant development that “can’t go unanswered.”
Additionally, the deployment of the missile - which may well be defensive in light of the recent build up of NATO forces on Russia's borders - could also "increase the military threat to NATO nations, which potentially would be one of the principal targets", and lead to an even bigger build up of NATO forces around Russia, and so on.