Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urges for accountability in U.S.-Russia relations at a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urges for accountability in U.S.-Russia relations at a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday. Christophe Haubursin / Medill

WASHINGTON — Holding Russia accountable for possible violations of a 1987 nuclear missile treaty means keeping President Vladimir Putin’s priorities in mind, Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday at a Heritage Foundation event.

Putin’s 2005 statement that the collapse of the Soviet Union “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” gives a lens through which the Russian’s leader’s actions can be assessed, Rubio said.

“The Russian goals for these treaties and negotiations is very different from our goal,” Rubio, R-Fla., said. “Their goal is to increase their dominance over their neighbors and their geopolitical strength at our expense.”

The treaty, negotiated during the Reagan administration, eliminated nuclear and ground missiles capable of being launched between 300 miles and 3,400 miles. Panelists at the conservative think tank forum said Russian media reports have indicated that such intermediate-range missiles are being tested and developed, and possibly have been in the works since 2008, casting doubt on whether Russia is upholding its end of the deal.

Before Rubio’s speech, National Institute for Public Policy President Keith Payne said that ignoring Russia’s alleged noncompliance with the treaty would damage U.S credibility and “muddy the water” for future negotiations. Sweeping violations under the rug would let Russia “have their cake and eat it too,” Payne said during a Heritage panel discussion.

Georgetown University associate professor Matthew Kroenig put it stronger. “The U.S. is currently being played for a sucker in the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] treaty,” Kroenig said. . “We need to come to terms with the fact that the INF [treaty] may in fact be dead.”

Mark Schneider, a senior analyst with the public policy institute, agreed. “Put all this together,” he said, “and it’s a very disturbing pattern.”

The panel underscored that making sure Russia holds true to the intermediate-range weapons agreement isn’t a matter of limiting power as much as it is a matter of preserving U.S. credibility.

Success in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapon program will require continued respect for the legitimacy of American diplomacy, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph said. A botched follow-through with the U.S.-Russia treaty would damage trustworthiness.

The importance of follow-through has already played out in Syria, said Joseph who served in the administration of President George W. Bush.

“You don’t accept being stonewalled,” Joseph said in regard to Russian talks. “You don’t reward bad behavior.”

According to Keith Payne, the damage to credibility would threaten both negotiations with adversaries, and also relationships with foreign allies. Recent statements from Japan regarding its desire to independently develop its own h nuclear defense program illustrate a turn away from trust in American defense, he said.

“The U.S. seems stuck in this idea that we can lead by example,” Rubio said. “In fact the opposite is happening.”