Putin orders Russia military to launch missile in ‘symmetrical’ response to US test

Oliver Carroll
A conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile is launched by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) during a test to inform development of future intermediate-range capabilities at San Nicolas Island: Reuters

Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia‘s military to prepare a “symmetrical response” after the US carried out a cruise missile test on Sunday.

In an official transcript of a national security meeting published on Friday, the Russian president said the timing of the test indicated that the United States had long planned for the escalation.

“This was no improvisation, but the latest link in a long-planned chain,” he said.

On Monday, US officials confirmed they had tested a non-nuclear cruise missile, hitting a target more than 500km away.

Such tests were previously prohibited under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, a Cold War-era pact which came to an end earlier this month.

Signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1987, the treaty banned ground-launched missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500km (310 and 3,400 miles). It was heralded at the time for reducing Nato and Russia’s ability to launch quick attacks against each other.

Both sides blame each other for its demise.

From the 2010s onwards, the US has claimed Moscow was violating the treaty by developing a new long-range cruise missile – a claim Russia denies.

But it was only with the election of Donald Trump that the White House made concrete moves to exit the treaty.

Russia on the other hand has asserted the US was in violation by basing MK-41 ground launchers in Europe supposedly capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.

On Friday, Mr Putin said news of the tests were a vindication of Russia’s position.

“The Americans stubbornly denied [their violation], claiming the ground-based MK-41 system was supposedly incapable of launching Tomahawk sea-based cruise missiles,” read the transcript of his remarks.

“Now the fact of violation is self-evident, it is impossible to dispute it – they themselves spoke about it.”

The US defence secretary, Mark Esper, said this month he was in favour of placing ground-launched intermediate-range missiles in Asia “relatively soon”.

Mr Putin said talk of deploying new missiles a region near to Russian borders affected “core national interests”.

He added that US intentions did not end there: there were plans to deploy its new land-based missile in Romania and Poland too. He ordered officials to “study the level of threat posed by these US actions” and ”take exhaustive measures to prepare a symmetrical response”.

The open part of the transcript ends on an emollient note.

“We have never wanted, do not want and will not be drawn into a costly, economically destructive arms race,” Mr Putin said.

Donald Trump‘s US administration has said it has no imminent plans to deploy new land-based missiles in Europe.

With additional reporting by staff and Reuters