Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on Monday. Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday urged the United States to begin new arms talks after the collapse of a Cold War nuclear pact between the two world powers.
Moscow and Washington tore up the Intermediate Range Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on Friday, triggering fears of a new arms race.
“In order to avoid chaos that has no rules, limits and laws, one needs to once again weigh all possible dangerous consequences and start serious dialogue without any ambiguities,” Putin said in a statement.
“We are ready for it.”
Moscow has blamed Washington for unilaterally ending the 1987 treaty which was signed by US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The agreement limited the use of conventional and nuclear missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.
Washington and Nato accused Russia of developing the new 9M729 missile which they say violates the treaty, but Russia says its range falls short of 500 kilometres.
Putin said on Monday that if Russia receives information about US development of new missiles, it “will be forced to begin the full-scale development of similar missiles.”
Russia “will not deploy them in relevant regions until American-made missiles are deployed there,” Putin said.
Unless there are new talks about strategic security, “this scenario means restarting an uncontrolled arms race,” he added.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said at the weekend that he would like to deploy the new intermediate-range missiles in Asia, but denied that this would spark an arms race as the weapons are not nuclear.
“Right now, we don’t have plans to build nuclear-tipped INF range weapons,” he said. “So I don’t see an arms race happening.”
The INF treaty was considered a cornerstone of global arms control architecture, but Washington has long called it obsolete due to non-signatories like China being free to develop their own weapons.
Putin on Monday accused the US of “seriously complicating the situation in the world and creating fundamental risks for all” by pulling out of the treaty.
Washington launched a six-month withdrawal procedure for leaving the treaty in February, and Moscow followed soon after.
Any new treaty to counter the build-up of nuclear missiles would have to include China, US President Donald Trump said last week.
The other key arms deal between Russia and the US is the New START treaty which keeps the nuclear arsenals of both countries well below their Cold War peak.
The deal expires in 2021 and it is likely not to be renewed amid the current chill in US-Russian relations, experts say.
The US and Russia own more than 90 per cent of global nuclear stockpiles, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank.
Meanwhile, an explosion at a Russian military base in Siberia set off fires and injured at least four people, authorities said.
The explosion happened in an ammunition depot at the base, located 10 kilometres from the closed military town of Achinsk in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia.
Emergency service personnel evacuated residents within 20 kilometres of the blast site “to ensure the security of the population of the settlements located near the depots.”
Local authorities say residents don’t face an immediate threat but asked people to stay away from the military base.
The Russian Defence Ministry said the storage site that exploded held “gunpowder charges for artillery shells.”
The state-run TASS news agency quoted an anonymous source saying the depot held up to 40,000 artillery shells for tank guns.
Ammunition depot explosions are not unusual in Russia.
After the most recent incident in May 2019, a fire raged for almost a week before water drops from military aircraft and helicopters helped put out the blaze.
Also on Monday Russia jailed an ally of top anti-Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as authorities pressed ahead with a crackdown on the opposition over its demand for fair elections.