It looks like Russia is preparing the ground for pulling out of the INF Treaty. For about two years now it has been trying to get the United States to agree to terminate the treaty, but apparently without success. Today most Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed Ministry of Defense official who said in an interview to RIA Novosti that "if necessary, Russia will withdraw from the INF Treaty unilaterally." No points for guessing what kind of precedent was mentioned in this regard - he said, "We've seen precedents like this before - the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty."

It is true that the INF Treaty, which prohibits Russia and the United States from having ballistic missiles with 500 to 5500 km range, no longer has the military and political value that it had in the 1980s. But this does not mean it does not have any value. Quite the opposite - it establishes a very important norm of not having this kind of missiles. If Russia worries about Fiji's getting them (the actual example that the defense ministry source used), it may think about extending that norm to Fiji, not about scrapping it.

Trying to come up with at least some kind of justification for the itch to end the INF Treaty, the official said that "Russia has other neighbors [i.e. not the United States], countering which can be better done with medium-range missiles, not with intercontinental ones. And these missiles don't have to carry nuclear warheads." (Should we read it that they actually might?) He then specifically mentioned North Korea as one of those neighbors. North Korea? Since when Russia considers military action against North Korea? My guess is that he actually meant something like NATO, but that would be a non-starter in any anti-INF Treaty lobbying campaign.

Unfortunately, in today's situation I don't see what could prevent Russia from actually pulling out of the treaty if it gets really serious about it. That would be a very unfortunate development, if only because it may help entrench another "norm" (which, I should note, the United States has been working quite hard to establish) - that pulling out of the treaties that you don't like is okay.