U.S. Warns Russia It Could ‘Take Out’ Missiles for Treaty Breach

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. warned that it could resort to strikes against a new class of Russian missile unless Moscow complies with its international commitments to arms reduction.

NATO defense ministers on Wednesday were discussing their concerns that Russia is building a medium-range ballistic missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a day after U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison suggested that “countermeasures” may be needed, comments she later tempered on Twitter.

U.S. Warns Russia It Could ‘Take Out’ Missiles for Treaty Breach

Russia has over “several years” refused to accept U.S. evidence of breaches, so “we need to look for other ways to bring Russia to the table on the issues,” Hutchison told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday ahead of the NATO meeting. “The countermeasures would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty.”

The U.S. envoy later clarified that she wasn’t advocating a pre-emptive strike against Russia. “I was not talking about pre-emptively striking Russia. My point: Russia needs to return to INF Treaty compliance or we will need to match its capabilities to protect US & NATO interests,” Hutchison said in a tweet.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed the concerns about Russia’s compliance with the treaty, citing development of a new ground-launched cruise missile known as 9M729, whose existence Russia only recently acknowledged.

“All allies fully agree that it is extremely important that Russia in a transparent way complies with the INF Treaty because the INF Treaty is a cornerstone of European security,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. “We are very serious about our concerns and very serious when we call on Russia to comply with the INF treaty in a transparent and verifiable way.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the 9М729 missile has never been tested at distances covered by the INF Treaty, Tass reported. Earlier, Tass quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying: “Our military experts will give a detailed answer.”

‘Crucial’ Treaty

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization issued a statement in December underscoring the INF Treaty’s “crucial” role in ensuring security for 30 years by “‘removing an entire class of U.S. and Russian weapons” -- ground-launched intermediate-range missiles -- and calling on Russia to address “serious concerns” about a missile system identified by NATO members.

Stoltenberg called on Russia to urgently address concerns that the new system may be in violation of the INF Treaty, saying that “Russia has not provided any credible answers” on the missile. “As long as they don’t answer our questions, the most plausible solution is that this is a violation of the INF Treaty,” he said.

Hutchison said that “numerous occasions” had been recorded of Russian breaches and called on Moscow to stop the violations. Russia is “on notice,” she said.

“We know they have violated the treaty and we are beginning the research capabilities that are allowed by the treaty to deter a medium-range ballistic missile,” Hutchison said.

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