Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed on Monday that NATO and Russia should conduct mutual inspections of each other's military bases to secure a moratorium on the deployment of new missiles in Europe following last year's demise of a US-Russian nuclear arms pact.
The United States and Russia both pulled out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty last year, blaming each other for violations. Nevertheless, Putin has pledged not to deploy the weapons that were outlawed by the treaty, for as long as the US doesn't deploy such arms to Europe.
Washington has scoffed at Putin's statements, charging that Russia already has deployed missiles that violate the INF treaty's provisions a claim Moscow has rejected.
On Monday, Putin followed up on his earlier statements by offering to allow the US and its NATO allies to conduct on-site inspections to make sure that the weapons previously banned by the INF aren't deployed to Europe.
The US pulling out of the INF Treaty was a serious mistake that exacerbated the risks of a missile weapons race, growth of the confrontation potential and slide into uncontrolled escalation, Putin said in a statement.
In a situation like this, vigorous efforts are needed to ease the shortage of trust, to strengthen regional and global stability, and to reduce the risks stemming from misunderstandings and disagreements in the field of missile weapons, the Russian president added.
He said that as part of mutual inspections, Russian experts could visit the US missile defense facilities in Europe to make sure they can't be adapted for launching surface-to-surface missiles instead of interceptor missiles, which Moscow has been concerned about.
In its turn, Russia would offer NATO access to inspect Russian units in the nation's westernmost Kaliningrad exclave, to make sure they aren't equipped with 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles.
The US has accused Russia of violating the INF treaty by deploying these missiles, a claim Russia has denied. Putin on Monday reiterated that Russia had not breached the pact by fielding the missiles, but said Russia could refrain from deploying them in the western part of the country in the spirit of good will for as long as NATO doesn't station weapons previously banned by the INF in Europe.
Putin's move comes amid uncertainty surrounding the New START arms control treaty that expires in February. Moscow and Washington have inched toward agreement to extend the pact, their last remaining arms control agreement, but differences have remained.
New START dates from 2010, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.
The INF Treaty, which was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned the production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (310 to 3,410 miles).
Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilising because of the shorter time they take to reach targets compared to intercontinental ballistic missiles, raising the likelihood of a nuclear conflict over a false launch alert.
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