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Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) confers with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow Image Credit: AP

Moscow: President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said Russia was suspending its participation in a key Cold War-era missile treaty in a mirror response to a US move the day before.

“Our American partners have announced they are suspending their participation in the deal, and we are also suspending our participation,” he said of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Putin said during a televised meeting with foreign and defence ministers Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu that Russia would no longer initiate talks with the US on disarmament.

“We will wait until our partners have matured enough to conduct an equal, meaningful dialogue with us on this important topic,” the president said.

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President Donald Trump said on Friday that Washington was suspending its obligations under the INF treaty and starting a process to withdraw in six months.

Washington says a Russian medium-range missile system breaches the INF deal.

But Moscow has long insisted it does not violate the agreement, and last month invited reporters and foreign military attaches to a briefing on the disputed weapons system.

We will wait until our partners have matured enough to conduct an equal, meaningful dialogue with us on this important topic.

- Vladimir Putin, Russian president

Lavrov on Saturday repeated Russian accusations that Washington itself has been in violation of the deal for many years.

At the meeting, Putin said Russia would seek to develop medium-range missiles in response to what he said were similar projects in the US.

But he told the ministers that Russia would “not be drawn into a costly new arms race”.

Russia would only deploy intermediate- and short-range missiles in Europe or elsewhere in answer to similar moves from the US, he added.

Putin has previously threatened to develop nuclear missiles banned under the INF treaty if it is scrapped.

European leaders have voiced fears over the consequences of the treaty’s demise and called on Russia to address concerns before the United States formally leaves in August.

Signed towards the end of the Cold War by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the treaty bans ground-launched missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometres.

The deal resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals, but put no restrictions on other major military actors such as China.

China urges US not to withdraw from nuclear treaty with Russia

The United States should resolve its differences with Russia through dialogue instead of threatening to withdraw from an important nuclear arms control agreement between the two nations, China’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

The United States’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that Washington would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia within six months unless Russia returned to “full and verifiable compliance” with the treaty.

Washington claims Russia’s new Novator 9M729 cruise missile violates the agreement, which bans ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500km and 5,500km.

“As an important bilateral treaty in arms control and disarmament, the Intermediate-Range Treaty has great significance in improving relations between major powers, strengthening international and regional peace, and maintaining global strategic balance and stability,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on its website.

“China is opposed to US withdrawal action and urges the United States and Russia to handle their differences properly through constructive dialogue,” the statement said, warning that unilateral withdrawal could trigger “negative consequences”.

The agreement officially expires in early 2021 but can be extended by another five years if both Washington and Moscow agree. However, Russian officials have accused the United States of inventing a pretext to end the treaty, allowing them to develop new weapons.

China’s foreign ministry said it was not in favour of drawing up a multilateral arms control agreement to replace the Intermediate-Range Treaty, saying the issues were too complicated and that existing agreements should instead be maintained and implemented.