US threatens to ‘take out’ new Russian cruise missile system if it becomes operational
Washington claims once the system works, Moscow could launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice
The US envoy to Nato on Tuesday warned that Russia must stop development of new missiles that could carry nuclear warheads and threatened to “take out” the system if it comes online.
Nato claims that the 9M729 system contravenes the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF. The cold war-era pact bans an entire class of weapons – all land-based cruise missiles with a range from 500 to 5,500km (310-3,410 miles), and the alliance says the Russian system fits into that category.
“It is time now for Russia to come to the table and stop the violations,” US Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters in Brussels, on the eve of a meeting of US Defence Secretary James Mattis and his counterparts at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
She said that if the system “became capable of delivering”, the US “would then be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America”.
The US ambassador made an “absolutely irresponsible statement”, the Interfax news service cited the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying.
“It looks like people who make such statements don’t realise the degree of their responsibility and the danger of aggressive rhetoric,” Tass quoted ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying. “Our military experts will give a detailed answer,” Zakharova said, according to Tass.
Washington has shared intelligence evidence with its 28 Nato allies that Russia is developing the ground-fired cruise missile and that the system could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.
Russia counterclaims that US missile defences violate the pact. In the past, the Obama administration tried to convince Moscow to respect the INF treaty but seemed to make no progress.
Mattis said on Tuesday he intends to raise the issue during the Nato meeting. After four years of diplomatic effort, he said, the US is living by the treaty and Russia is not. He said there is a lot of concern about that at the US State Department and on Capitol Hill.
“I’m going to lay out the situation,” Mattis said during a news conference in Paris. “I want their advice as I return to Washington.”
Hutchison said that the US does not want to violate the treaty but Russia could force its hand.
“There will come a point in the future in which America will determine that it has to move forward with a development phase that is not allowed by the treaty right now,” she said.
Washington wants its Nato allies to increase diplomatic pressure on Moscow, and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that all allies are concerned by Russia’s continued work on the system.
“Russia has not provided any credible answers on this new missile,” said Stoltenberg, adding that the INF is a “crucial element” of transatlantic security which is now “in danger because of Russia’s actions”.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg