Russian leaders have always treated international treaties like speed limits — following them whenever necessary, violating them whenever they see fit. Since agreements between countries only rely on mutual trust, there are no serious enforcement mechanisms that can punish Moscow for its frequent transgressions.

That is precisely why President Trump’s call to leave the failed Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty should not have come as a surprise to anyone, especially not to Russia.

The treaty should have been abandoned long before Trump took office — but the Obama administration proved to be rather incompetent when it comes to its foreign policy.

No matter how hard the Kremlin’s propaganda department works this week, convincing the world that Russia never violated its INF obligations will prove to be a truly daunting task.

When the United States and the Soviet Union signed the treaty in 1987, both countries had agreed not to possess, produce, or flight-test new ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a 500-5,500 kilometer range.

The idea behind the agreement was simple — eliminate the danger posed by intermediate-range and short-range missiles, especially those with nuclear capabilities, that could strike their targets in as little as 10 minutes. That is not a lot of time to detect, analyze, and respond to a possible nuclear threat.

Thanks to the treaty, both countries ended up destroying a total of about 2,700 missiles by 1991, which should have been the end of the story. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

As the decades rolled by, Russia rediscovered its geopolitical aspirations that were temporarily dulled by the turbulent 1990s. Soon thereafter, the U.S. military and intelligence officials began flagging Russia’s suspicious behavior, warning authorities that Moscow is breaching the terms of the joint arms agreement.

The first official INF-related allegation against Russia came in 2014. Then, the State Department repeated the same charge in 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, Gen. Paul Selva told the House Armed Services Committee that Moscow has “deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the spirit and intent of the [INF] treaty” and that the deployment was specifically intended “to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.”

Unlike his predecessor, President Trump took the warning seriously. There is, however, much more to Trump’s move than first meets the eye.

While the United States and Russia signed treaties that (at least in theory) hindered their development of advances strategic capabilities, China was never obligated to abide by many of these restrictions.

Taking full advantage of the Russo-American competition, the Chinese have been developing their own missile systems that would have otherwise been prohibited.

“China has never been a signatory of the INF Treaty,” writes Nathan Levine, a U.S.-China fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “This has allowed China to build up a vast arsenal of conventional anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) weapons, such as the DF-21 ‘carrier killer’ anti-ship ballistic missile (range of 1,500 kilometers).”

The commander in chief’s position on the INF treaty achieves two goals simultaneously: first, it sends a clear message to Russia that its illegal missile development will not be tolerated; second, it puts immediate pressure on China at a time when its leaders are panicking over their economy.

Trump’s critics, of course, will be quick to claim that abandoning the failed treaty will lead to a new nuclear arms race with Russia.

Bold prediction, but a few years too late — Moscow has already been actively modernizing its nuclear arsenal for decades, seeking to completely undermine Washington's ongoing development of a sophisticated missile defense system.

It is good to remember that just before Putin secured his re-election, the Russian leader announced that his country has developed a new “invincible” nuclear cruise missile capable of avoiding detection and interception.

Moscow described the new weapon as a “low-flying, difficult-to-spot cruise missile with a nuclear payload with a practically unlimited range and an unpredictable flight path, which can bypass lines of interception and is invincible in the face of all existing and future systems of both missile defense and air defense."

Theoretically, such a missile would be able to hit its target in North America before we even get a chance to realize that we’re at war — posing a fundamentally new strategic challenge for the United States.

If this isn’t a nuclear arms race, then exiting an outdated missile treaty certainly isn’t either.

For far too long, Washington has allowed Moscow to get away with ignoring its INF obligations while letting Beijing avoid the treaty altogether.

International agreements only work if nations decide to follow them — and when repeated requests to abide by the INF treaty fail to yield a result, scrapping the pact becomes the only prudent option.

Nikita Vladimirov (@nikvofficial) is a political strategist and a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog.