US-Russian relations just slid a lot further downhill: The US says Russia has violated a 1987 arms control treaty that helped end the Cold War, the New York Times reports. The formal accusation of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty—also known as the INF Treaty—comes after years of expressing concern over possible violations. The treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev bans ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. US officials believe Russia has been violating it with missile tests since as far back as 2008.
The White House says the treaty breach is "a very serious matter," and President Obama raised the issue in a letter to Vladimir Putin yesterday. Last year, Republican senators aware of the alleged treaty violations reportedly tried to force John Kerry to act. The decision to make a formal accusation now appears to be an attempt to put more pressure on Russia ahead of increased sanctions, notes the AP. US officials say they are ready for high-level talks on the issue, and analysts say it would be a mistake to give the Kremlin any opportunity to back out of the treaty. For the US to pull out of the treaty because of the violations "would actually be welcome in Moscow because they are wrestling with the question of how they terminate," a former Bush administration official told the House Armed Services Committee this month. "We shouldn’t make it any easier for them." (Read more cruise missiles stories.)