Russia has deployed new nuclear missiles and violated the "spirit and intent" of a landmark Cold War arms-reduction treaty, a top Pentagon commander says.
Now President Trump and leaders in Washington must decide what to do about it.
On Wednesday, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed longstanding suspicions that Russian's new intermediate-range missile was operational. He told a House Armed Services Committee hearing this week that it can threaten almost all of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"The system itself presents a risk to most of our facilities in Europe and we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility," he said.
It was the first official, public assertion that the missile, known to have been tested for years, is fully operational.
Under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Moscow and Washington agreed to eliminate all their land-based nuclear missiles that could hit targets within 3,400 miles.
On Thursday, Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, denied Selva's assertion. "We disagree with and reject any such accusations," he told reporters in a conference call. "Russia has adhered to and will adhere to all its international obligations, including those under the INF Treaty."
Selva told lawmakers the U.S. had confronted Russian officials about the deployment and would continue to speak with them about it, but Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., wondered what more Washington could do in the face of "what seems like a flagrant violation of a treaty."
Selva said this is all part of the government's ongoing Nuclear Posture Review, and so he couldn't give an answer until the work was complete.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., asked whether Moscow might withdraw its new intermediate cruise missiles and "return to compliance with this treaty."
No, Selva said, "absent some pressure from the international community and the United States as a co-signer of the same agreement."
The INF Treaty marked a high point in Cold War diplomacy between the United States and the then-Soviet Union. It removed the peril of nuclear missiles on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain that could have escalated a crisis on very short notice.
Since the chill between Russia and the West, however, Moscow began testing new weapons that arms-control observers and others warned violate the INF, which remains in effect.
Last year, nonproliferation experts deduced from open-source clues that Russia was placing its Iskander missiles within the exclave of Kaliningrad, a small strip of territory it controls along the Baltic Sea.
It's unclear how President Trump will respond to Moscow's missile moves. Last month, he told Reuters, "To me, it's a big deal," and said he would discuss the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin "if and when we meet."