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NATO, Russia talks yield no progress as demise of key missile ban looms

Russian 9M728 cruise missiles, left, and 9M723 short-range ballistic missiles, right.

COURTESY RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 5, 2019

High level talks between the U.S.-led NATO alliance and Russian officials Friday failed to produce a solution in a dispute over a new Russian missile system that is putting at risk a Cold War-era arms control treaty.

“The treaty is now in danger. Unfortunately, we have not seen any signs of a breakthrough and time is running out,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after talks at alliance headquarters in Brussels.

During a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, discussions centered on the soon-to-expire Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bans missiles with a range between 310 and 3,400 miles.

The United States and its allies say Russia’s nuclear-capable SSC-8 missile system violates the ban and could potentially strike European capitals within minutes. While the U.S. has complained about the system dating back to the Obama administration, last year Washington warned that it would pull out of the INF treaty unless Moscow comes back into compliance. The treaty is set to expire Aug. 2.

“There are no new U.S. missiles in Europe, but there are many new Russian missiles in Europe,” Stoltenberg said.

Should the 1987 landmark weapons ban break apart, NATO will take defensive countermeasures, Stoltenberg said. He declined to detail steps the allies will take, but NATO has ruled out putting new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.

“We will respond in a united way, coordinated and defensive,” he said.

Last week, acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. must consider new steps and will begin research on ground-based, non-nuclear, intermediate-range missiles, as one possible way to counter Russia.

“The United States has upheld its end of the deal, Russia has not,” Esper said at a meeting of defense ministers. “This is a dangerous and entirely avoidable reality, but Russia chose it.”

Moscow has repeatedly denied that its missile system violates the INF treaty.

Allies, however, are unconvinced. Stoltenberg said accepting Russian violations without consequences would weaken arms control deals in general.

The violation also “undermines the trust of other agreements we have with Russia on arms control,” Stoltenberg said.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

 

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